Ian Ward, Leader of Birmingham City Council and long-time driving force behind the Birmingham Commonwealth Games 2022 project, aspires to deliver “the best ever Commonwealth Games” in 2022, writes Waseem Zaffar.

In order to realise his ambition, though, I challenge him to deliver a Living Wage Commonwealth Games.

No partner or supplier of services linked to the Games should pay any of its staff a penny less than the Real Living Wage announced annually by the Living Wage Foundation.

The Commonwealth Games will be a catalyst for change for our city and region. When we analyse the impact of the Manchester Games on the North West, it was a game-changer for them. Their international brand, which benefits from two world-famous football clubs, was given a big boost with the delivery of a successful Commonwealth Games in 2002. And they’ve never looked back.

Birmingham, and the West Midlands, desperately needs something to provide a similar energy boost for its international brand. The history and heritage of a successful football in Aston Villa certainly helps our international brand. But, even, the most enthusiastic of Villa fans like me will have to admit, for the time being, that our club’s demotion to the second tier of football isn’t assisting as we compete with other major cities. I’m not going to comment on the status of other clubs to avoid offending their fans.

A rise in profile of our external brand through the Games will assist us attract investment into the region. For me, though, that is nowhere as important as the internal impact it will have on the maps of deprivation and inequalities that have blighted our city and region for generations.
Having a Living Wage Commonwealth Games is vital. Supporting our lowest paid at a time when the cost of living is always rising is enormously important.

I look back with enormous pride at the first cabinet decision taken by our Labour-run Birmingham city council in 2012, to become a Living Wage council. My first contribution as a non-exec Director at Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust was to support and vote for Living Wage status at the Trust in 2015. Again, a hugely important decision to reward our lowest paid when austerity has decimated public services.

I would go further and say that we need to deliver a Commonwealth Games with no zero hour contracts.

The West Midlands is the capital of zero hour contracts, with more here than anywhere else in the UK. We need to change this, and a great start would be to deliver the Games without any exploitative contracts or employment conditions.

Local businesses, in particular SMEs, have struggled on through economic crisis after economic crisis. I know many are looking forward with hope towards the Games and feel that, if things go to plan, the big business deal they’ve been waiting for could be round the corner.

I’m advocating a Buy Birmingham (or West Midlands) first policy for the Games. It’s simply not true that the EU or any other kind of procurement rules preclude it.

A strong local economy will go a long way in denting those maps of deprivation and the inequalities that make Birmingham the second most unequal City in the second most unequal country in Europe.

And finally, jobs.

Thousands and thousands of Birmingham residents, many young, living in our inner city and white working class communities, feel betrayed by the lack of employment opportunities. The number of NEETs (not in employment, education or training) is one of the biggest scandals of our generation. Our young people feel let down because they have been.
But the Commonwealth Games can help. We need some urgent action to analyse what jobs will appear in the market the moment Birmingham is formally announced as the host city to address the skills gap and get our young people ready for work.

These jobs can make a difference. They will give young people the opportunity to show the industrious, creative and innovative skills that their forefathers used to put Birmingham on the map during the industrial revolution.

Every deal and every contract signed needs to include a commitment to create real job opportunities for Birmingham’s (and West Midlands) young people that will go a long way in eradicating youth unemployment. We need thousands of apprenticeship opportunities created for our future generations in the most diverse range of professions possible.

So, my message to Ian Ward is simple, let’s deliver the best Commonwealth Games that puts our core fairness and equality values at the heart of it, creating life-changing opportunities for a generation that desperately needs them.

This column was first published on the Chamberlain Files on 6th November 2017.