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The Leveson Centre for the study of Ageing, Spirituality and Social Policy

The West Midlands Regional What?

Dagmar Waller, Strategic Review Officer of the West Midlands Regional Assembly writes:

When I saw my current job advertised I was hardly aware that I lived in the West Midlands Region and that there was a West Midlands Assembly! Sparked by curiosity I sent for the application form and before I knew where I was I had been appointed as a Policy Officer with the Assembly. I then found myself trying to explain to friends what the Assembly is and what I do all day - and I thought the interview was difficult!

So starting with geography - the West Midlands Region includes the urban conurbation surrounding Birmingham and the Black Country and the more rural areas of Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire. It extends from Oswestry to Rugby and from Leek to Worcester also including Stoke on Trent and Telford.

Why is there a West Midlands Region? It is one of the eight governmental regions within England (excluding London) established to administer the delivery of government policy at a level somewhere between national and local. In order to do so there are a number of regional bodies each with different responsibilities. These include Government Office West Midlands (central government in the region), Advantage West Midlands (the Regional Development Agency responsible for economic development) and the West Midlands Regional Assembly.

The West Midlands Regional Assembly is an appointed body that aims to promote the interests of the region and its people. It is made up of representatives from local authorities, the business sector and other communities of interest such as faith communities. The Assembly has specific responsibilities in relation to regional planning and scrutiny of Advantage West Midlands. It also works in partnership with a variety of other bodies around a wide variety of areas in order to improve the quality of life within the region. Regional Partnerships have been created to allow partners to work together in specific areas. Examples are the Regional Transport Partnership, the Environment Partnership and the newly established Health Partnership.

So what does this actually mean? A good example of how the Assembly works is its approach to older people. Age Concern England has been working with Regional Assemblies to raise awareness of issues surrounding ageing through a national programme - Regions for All Ages. As part of this programme a national conference was held in Birmingham in March 2003. Delegates were challenged to identify what could be done within their region to move the issues of ageing forward - and then to go away and do it!

West Midlands' delegates wanted to set up a group of key players to work to influence regional strategies and decision makers and wanted to position this within Regional Assembly structures. Consequently the Regional Advisory Group on Ageing was established as a sub group of the Social Inclusion Partnership.

The group agreed that it wanted to advise and influence the Assembly and other partners to increase the focus on the ageing dimension, work to reduce prejudice and to exchange information. We see ageing as a continuum and not restricted to a specified age group although predominately we are interested in the issues related to an older population. The group is not intended to be representative but includes members from Government Office West Midlands, Better Government for Older People, Age Concern, Help the Aged and the health sector. It is chaired by Councillor Mrs Jo Jones who is the Older Persons Champion in Shrewsbury and Atcham Borough Council and an Assembly Member.

We are working to raise the profile of ageing issues in a variety of ways. Currently we are finalising a document that is intended to be a wake up call for decision makers at all levels within the region. It highlights the issues that they should consider from the changing population structure to the role older people play in the economy and society as a whole. It will also identify the challenges we face in the areas of poverty, health, social care and exclusion.

We hope to follow this with more detailed work looking at specific areas where older people have an important role, particularly in the economy and the contribution older people make to society. We aim to emphasise the positive aspects of an older population while not ignoring the challenges that this brings.

We also are beginning to act as a consultation body. For example in 2003 we responded to the government consultation 'Age Matters' that looked at possible legislation to tackle age discrimination. We are also helping to test an 'age proofing toolkit' prepared as part of the Regions for All Ages programme referred to earlier. This will then allow us to start influencing regional strategies in a systemic way.

It is early days for the group but I feel we are already having an impact. For example the recently launched Regional Economic Strategy 'Delivering Advantage' identifies a number of challenges for the region. Following submissions this now includes 'The Demographic Challenge' - a small win but hopefully the start of something bigger.

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