We already know the West Midlands is home to some of the most innovative businesses in the UK, supported by the skills and resources of universities, science parks and research institutes. Now the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) will extend the use of this infrastructure to more businesses, building on the region’s current success in developing manufacturing and engineering excellence.
Currently, the core of our economic strength is in advanced manufacturing and engineering, but a number of growing dynamic sectors – including creative, digital and life sciences – are playing an increasingly significant role.
To maximise these growing benefits, the skill levels of local people must match and then exceed the national average. The WMCA will ensure that employers have the right support
so their employees have the skills they need, and people of all ages will have access to the best education and training, along with improved housing.
The region’s economy provides a strong foundation for growth, and is supported by high quality rail, road and air links which will be strengthened by development of Birmingham Airport and the arrival of HS2.
Our task now is to ensure that 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 region’s people and businesses.
The WMCA consists of 17 local authorities and three Local Enterprise Partnerships working together to move powers from Whitehall to the locally-elected politicians who know this region best. It’s not a super council, and it’s not going to mean the end of individual councils with proud histories, far from it. Those councils will still deliver services and retain their identities.
But there are some areas which cross civic boundaries, where it makes sense for us to work together rather than as individual authorities. Transport, mental health, skills and productivity, housing and land, public service reform, driving economic growth locally – these are all areas where we on the ground know what can work and where we will now have the resources to work together to make it happen.
Last November, we signed an agreement with the Government that will see it make an annual contribution worth £40m over the next 30 years to support an overall investment package that will unlock £8bn – and that’s just for starters. We have made it clear to the Government we want more. By 2030 our goal is to have: 2.4 million jobs, 500,000 more than today; a wide choice of housing with more than 1.9 million homes; rail travel to London in 38 minutes and greater capacity on the network thanks to HS2; 2,000 HS2-related apprenticeships; and at least 153,000 fewer people with no formal qualifications, and 156,000 more with Level 4 qualifications or above.
It’s crucial that we create the right environment for businesses and entrepreneurs to flourish, and WMCA’s Strategic Economic Plan sets out how we intend to achieve this. This has been developed and agreed by a wide partnership of people, organisations and businesses who share a pride in the region. It sets the context for the WMCA’s devolution agreement with government and explains how devolved powers and resources will be used.
Councillor John Clancy is the leader of Birmingham City Council and the WMCA portfolio holder for economic growth. Go to www.westmidlandscombinedauthority.org.uk/about/strategic-economic-plan/ for more details.