Questions about Health and Growth in relation to West Yorkshire’s Local Industrial Strategy

On December 2019, the West Yorkshire and Harrogate Integrated Care System Board discussed the region’s Local Industrial Strategy and how it fits with the Board’s Five Year Strategy for Health and Care 2019-24.

Calderdale and Kirklees 999 Call for the NHS asked two questions about this at the 3rd December Board meeting.

But first we asked the Board members to bear in mind two points, when discussing the draft Local Industrial Strategy:

  • In relation to the Local Industrial Stategy’s focus on Artificial Intelligence and Data, the recently-leaked documents from the UK-US Trade and Investment Working Group show that the USA is pushing for weakened data privacy rules after Brexit to give American companies access to millions of NHS patients’ health records. (The 6th meeting is the one that focussed on “emerging technologies”.) And the UK seems alarmingly willing to play ball.
  • Second, economic growth – a key goal of the Local Industrial Strategy – is incompatible with climate change mitigation AND health.

As usual, you can see from the responses, below, that we might just as well not have bothered asking any questions. But the Integrated Care System still get to tick the box for open and transparent meetings.

Who really benefits from the focus on Artificial Intelligence and Data?

Since the launch of the May government’s Future Funding Settlement for the NHS, which set the template for the NHS Long Term Plan, we have warned (here and here) that the focus was more about creating wealth for digital technology and life sciences companies, post-Brexit, than the needs of NHS patients and clinical staff:

“…what Ernst and Young calls capturing value from the human body as data platform…is the facebook model of healthcare, where an apparently free service is monetised by capturing users’ data.

“In pursuit of this goal, the NHS is being being redisorganised into a testbed for life sciences and digital technology corporations’ ‘disruptive innovations’.

“Post-Brexit, the government’s aim is to export these disruptive innovations to China, India, Saudi Arabia, Africa…, leaving NHS patients stranded high and dry with a rump service, while the huge wealth of 70 years of millions of patients’ confidential medical data is mined for the profit of life sciences and digitech companies.”

Now the leaked UK-USA free trade talks documents strongly suggest that this is indeed the case. And that quite apart from patients’ data privacy issues,

“Any planned changes to how our current data regulations operate has [sic] implications for privacy but also for the affordability of a high-quality NHS, as the service could be obliged to buy back medical technologies and expertise from overseas at high cost, even where these were created using freely exported NHS data.”

Open Democracy article

Response: Unable to comment…

“The Partnership is unable to comment on speculation about the impact of potential future trade deals with the US”

Economic growth is incompatible with climate change mitigation AND with health

It seems that the whole aim of the Local Industrial Strategy is to enable the Local Economic Partnership and Combined Authority to

“draw down any future local growth funding (or Shared Prosperity Funding).”

But economic growth is not a sustainable or salutogenic objective. This is because so far no one has found a way to decarbonise economic activity. 

And where decarbonisation processes have been identified, such as electric vehicles, these still depend on highly damaging and polluting mineral extraction that not only destroys the natural environment and harms people’s health, but destabilises the politics and society of the countries concerned.

This means “clean growth” – one of the government’s “challenges” that the Local Industrial Strategy commits to “making a contribution to meeting”- is a contradiction in terms.

We are familiar with blood diamonds. We should perhaps start thinking about blood decarbonisation. There are good grounds for thinking that the recent coup in Bolivia was about securing American corporate access to Bolivian lithium – the key mineral needed for the production of electric vehicles.

It’s no use trumpeting allegedly salutenogenic policies for West Yorkshire and Harrogate if these policies are damaging the natural environment, killing people and ruining children’s lives elsewhere. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the extraction of cobalt needed for smart phones  – which are key to the Local Industrial Strategy’s focus on Artificial Intelligence and Data – is damaging the health of local people and their natural environment.  As well as exploiting child labour.

We need a Local Industrial Strategy for a “one planet” economy. At the moment, if everyone in the world lived like we do, we would need 3 planets. We can’t go on organising our economy based on the pursuit of economic growth. 

If it is serious about climate change mitigation, rather than just greenwashing, the Local Industrial Strategy needs to work out a degrowth strategy based on a fairer distribution of wealth.

Fairer distribution of wealth is key to increasing income equality and reducing social and health injustice and inequality. We are the sixth biggest economy in the world. We don’t need to grow our economy, we need to distribute its fruits more fairly. In the end, that requires legislation and regulation at the level of national government. Any salutogenic local industrial strategy should surely acknowledge and demand that.

The Local Industrial Strategy should require that all developments should comply with the principles and practices of a zero waste/closed loop economy. And that anything that promotes economic growth that worsens climate change should be ruled out.

Response: a straw man argument and platitudes

Here’s the Integrated Care System’s response. Really, why did we bother asking?

The Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership has made it clear throughout the development of the Local Industrial Strategy that it is not about growth ‘at any cost’ and the principles of inclusive growth and clean growth are embedded throughout the draft strategy.

(That’s the straw man argument – did we say the Local Industrial Strategy was about growth ‘at any cost’? No, we didn’t.)

The City Region has agreed an ambitious agenda to respond to the climate emergency, including the aim to be UK’s first zero-carbon city region by 2038. This will be achieved using a variety of evidence-led measures, including supporting business to reduce their usage of materials and energy, reduce their waste production, improve energy efficiency in homes and businesses to reduce overall energy consumption, investing in low carbon energy schemes –such as the District Heating Scheme (https://www.leeds-pipes.co.uk/) and investing in the transfer to electric vehicles and low emission vehicles for public transport and the public fleet.

The City Region remains committed to working with the Health Tech sector to be a good example of promoting both inclusive and clean growth and will remain cognisant of its purchasing power in relation to sustainably sourced materials globally. Read more in our joint Memorandum of Understanding here.

Improving the quality of life for everyone across Leeds City Region is fundamental to our Local Industrial Strategy. While Leeds City Region is a strong regional economy, offering the opportunity for excellent quality of life, these benefits are not shared equally. We are home to some of the most disadvantaged areas of the country and a significant number of people are excluded from the labour market, or else find it hard to find a route out of low paid, low skilled employment. The Local Industrial Strategy is an opportunity to create real, positive and sustainably delivered change for the people who live here. You can read more about the full Local Industrial Strategy here.

(And those are the platitudes.)

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