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An Engine for Growth

Collaboration, does it really mean that together we are stronger? That’s what the speakers at the Midland’s Engine Insider West Midlands Breakfast tried to find out.

On April 14th, we attended the Insider breakfast panel at the University of Birmingham. This one focused on what was next in the Midlands growth through the combined authority and the Midlands Engine brand.

Panel 1 – The Next Step

Made up of council and Chambers members; these were Katie Trout, chief executive, Birmingham and Solihull LEP, Henrietta Brealey, director of policy and strategic relationships, Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, Ann Lucas OBE, leader of the Council, Coventry City Council and Sara Middleton from the Black Country Consortium. Their discussion focused on explaining how the logistics of the combined authority will work and how it may affect businesses and people within the region.

Ann of Coventry Council used her passion and political prowess to explain the main benefits of the government’s plan of devolution; giving local authorities the power and resources to make the decisions they believe are important to the region.

“We are taking real power and responsibility and using it to kick start the growth of the Midlands.”

The combined authority will come into effect on the 1st June this year and will combine the local authorities throughout the West Midlands to help them work together to create a greater Birmingham. New funding will be provided with a total of £8billion of finances over 30 years to be spent on regional growth, including housing, land remediation and transport. After this period the region will, hopefully, be renewed and have made a significant impact on the world’s stage.

The Midland’s Engine, however, is the brand name of the region as it covers a wider area, including the West, East and South East Midlands and helps to come up with the themes that these areas would like to work towards. The benefits of this include scale, as businesses can get involved and benefit from additional funding and support. This will help to grow businesses and bring them together for a greater advantage.

Henrietta believed that communication was the key to the success of the scheme she said, “There needs to be more done in the way of communicating how businesses can get involved to save confusion.”

Katie explained the different plans and strategies involved in making this work. SEP, which stands for Strategic Economic Plans and come from a local growth fund. These will come together to form Super SEPs, which is where the combined authority comes in and there will be an agreed idea for the combined authority level. These plans will work alongside what is called a Dynamic Economic Impact Model but to make it easier, think of it more as a sausage making machine. Where the resources are put in and it’s decided where the optimum place for the resources to come out as the perfectly formed return.

A main priority for the combined authority is a focus on skills. They want not only to go from the supply chain but complete end to end, to upskill the region the whole way through the process.

“The challenge is to upskill residents and focus on their progression.”

But as we all know, the skills gap has been a long term problem, maybe because it means different things to different people and can interpreted depending on the sector you are a part of. It is not an easy fix to upskill workers or else there would have been more action and the problem will have been solved.

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Panel 2 – Transport

The second panel of the morning focused on the transport issues that we face now and how to connect the region for the future. The panellists were: Simon Collinson, dean, Birmingham Business School, Bill McElroy, managing director consulting, Turner & Townsend, Laura Shoaf, strategic director, West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority, Jo Lloyd, commercial director, Birmingham Airport and Jonathan Browning, chair, Coventry & Warwickshire LEP.

The debate started with an opening statement from Jo Lloyd, she said, “There can be no boundaries to transport, it is important to the future of the Midlands Engine.”

With the HS2 coming very soon to connect Birmingham to the south in quick time, there will be integration from all the transport links and people are calling for all parts to step up. The demand for more regular services is enormous and will need to be addressed for the second city to shine out, especially with the international trade coming from the global success of Birmingham airport. Again, skills were brought up as a main concern.

“Facilitation of the mobility of skills is integral to the transport industry.”

The growth of the transport industry will attract the talent and skills to the region, making sure that we are creating sustainable growth. This is perfectly reflected by coining the term Midlands Engine, which gives a sense of place and purpose. The brand will be easily recognised around the world when the funding has begun and the growth has started.

The public want to be able to move around easily for work and recreation, they don’t necessarily want to work where they live or vice versa, so the pressure on transport organisations to fulfil that demand and make sure those commuters are having a pleasant experience to make sure they carry on commuting.

The transport panel had some scepticism surrounding the combined authority picture that the politicians were painting, saying that, “They’ve got to make it look easy to work together, bringing in a seamless approach to priorities and policies.”

A proposed thought was to look at Manchester and their Northern Powerhouse and learn from what works with them and what doesn’t, to bring the most optimum results down in here in the Midlands. Without having what the panel termed, ‘Devodump,’ meaning that responsibility was dumped without the correct power to enforce real change. The local governments will have to work together to make the collaboration work.

The concluding statements reflected the theme of driven collaboration and the strategy that will help to implement these plans, “The collective brand of the Midlands Engine is now too big to ignore; we’re a driving force for collaboration.”

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