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Latest economic plan is ‘deliverable and not fanciful’, WMCA chief promises

Latest economic plan is ‘deliverable and not fanciful’, WMCA chief promises

🕔13.Jun 2016

No one can accuse the West Midlands Combined Authority of producing a Strategic Economic Plan lacking in ambition, or of failing to make the case for radical change.

The SEP promises to deliver productivity five per cent above the national average by 2030 from a starting point of 10 per cent below, create net 500,000 new jobs and 20,000 new businesses, invest £500 million in housing, identify an extra 1.6 million hectares of brownfield land for employment of national significance, reduce by 153,000 the number of people in the workforce without formal qualifications and increase by 156,000 the number of people with level 4 qualifications or above.

The current £4 billion deficit between taxes raised and public expenditure in the area will be eliminated, and to top it all we will become healthier with a significant jump in life expectancy.

Old stagers at this game may recall equally ambitious economic plans drawn up by the likes of regional development agency Advantage West Midlands and the Regional Assembly, which promised much but ultimately failed to deliver, partly because of unfavourable national economic conditions and partly because, ultimately, no single administrative body existed with the clout and determination to push ahead with the plan.

This time it is different, according to WMCA, because the latest SEP is based on what’s termed the three-LEP geography, taking in a huge West Midlands economic hinterland consisting of 21 councils and the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP, the Black Country LEP and the Coventry and Warwickshire LEP.

WMCA and the incoming metro mayor have already been dealt a trump card by the Government in the shape of the arrival in 2026 of HS2, the high speed rail route which will, it is claimed, reduce journey times from Birmingham International to London to not much more than half an hour.

HS2 alone is predicted to increase GVA across the three-LEP area by £6 billion by 2030 and create 25,000 jobs and 2,000 apprenticeships. HS2 stations at Birmingham International and Curzon Street will lever in huge inward investment, it is claimed, with connectivity also being improved with an extension to the Midland Metro tram system from Birmingham city centre to the airport and NEC.

The Government has also identified the Midlands Engine, covering west and east Midlands, as a growth project to rival the Northern Powerhouse. Business Secretary Sajid Javid, MP for Bromsgrove, is taking a particular interest in delivering the Midlands Engine scheme.

The shadow WMCA has already announced plans to establish a £70 million Collective Investment Fund, described as a “commercial development war chest” to stimulate jobs and growth. The fund will unlock £1 billion of private sector investment over the next 10 years, according to combined authority chair Cllr Bob Sleigh.

The man behind the SEP is Martin Reeves, chief executive at Coventry council and part-time chief executive at WMCA. Reeves, an economist, has already gained plenty of admirers with his passionate, relentlessly upbeat assessment of the “unique” opportunity the West Midlands now has to turn around a historically under-performing economy.

Commenting on the GVA and job creation targets, Mr Reeves said:

These are incredibly ambitious figures, phenomenal targets over 15 years, but we think they are achievable.

We are talking about big numbers and game changing stuff, but this is not fanciful. This is an economic plan based on thorough research and is certainly deliverable.

The SEP lists eight priority areas:

  1. New Manufacturing Economy. Creating the biggest concentration of high value manufacturing businesses in Europe and their supply chains.
  2. Creative and Digital. Further developing this “vibrant and flourishing sector”.
  3. Environmental Technologies. Securing transformational environmental improvements.
  4. Medical Life Sciences. Enabling the further growth of the sector.
  5. HS2 Growth. Maximising the benefits of the largest infrastructure project in Europe.
  6. Skills for growth and employment for all. Ensuring the skills needs of businesses are met and everybody can benefit from economic growth.
  7. Accelerating delivery of current plans to increase the level of house building to support increased level of growth.
  8. Exploiting the economic geography. Making the most of the scale and diversity of the West Midlands’ geography to enable economic growth and community wellbeing throughout urban and rural areas.

Productivity of the new manufacturing economy is predicted to double, delivering an £8 billion economic boost and 20,000 jobs by 2030. Productivity in the digital and creative sector should triple by 2030, creating 29,000 new jobs, according to the SEP, which makes the point that businesses that use digital technology have 22 per cent higher revenues.

The plan says the scale of the combined authority will be used to double productivity of the medical and life sciences sector. Birmingham and the West Midlands will be promoted as the European centre for the development and assessment of drugs, diagnostics and devices. This is expected to translate into a £6 billion uplift in GVA by 2030 and create 75,000 new jobs.

Mr Reeves added:

We will create the right jobs, high value jobs in the right part of our region. We can confidently say that over half a million jobs will be created during the period.

Councillor Bob Sleigh, Chair of the Shadow West Midlands Combined Authority Board, said:

Our SEP is the blueprint for a region reborn. It ensures resources are focused in the right places at the right times to deliver fast, flexible and dynamic change in the areas that matter most to the people and firms of the region.

Our economic growth will be underpinned by the arrival of HS2; developments at Birmingham Airport and improved regional connectivity, which will include the introduction of new metro links.”

The region is well placed to make the most of opportunities offered by devolution. We have Birmingham city centre at our heart, the two cities of Coventry and Wolverhampton, all complemented by the surrounding towns, villages and countryside with their own unique characteristics, strong identities and cultural assets.

Our SEP is an ambitious plan, but no less than the area needs and our people deserve.

Andy Street, Chair of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership, said:

The West Midlands is already home to hundreds of globally competitive businesses and have world renowned universities, science parks and research institutes, all supported by rail, road and air links.

All of this provides a strong foundation for growth.

However, this is not enough. To create the safe, prosperous communities our people want, we need to compete nationally and internationally.

We need to continue to transform our economy, better educate our people; find ways to deliver world class public services across the region and reach out across the UK and the world, to trade and do business.

Through the LEPs the business community will play a leading role in our Combined Authority. Such collaboration will help guarantee our economic success.

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