GBSLEP Blog – Andy Street (July 2014)
On Monday, the Government will announce the results of the ‘Growth Deals’, the next critical stage of their plan to rebalance the economy away from an over reliance on London.
For all of us committed to a vibrant economy across Greater Birmingham and Solihull, it will be a significant event because of its impact on the future.
It is also the culmination of work that has been taking place since last summer when the Government asked all 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships to submit multi-year plans – Strategic Economic Plans, or SEPs – detailing their ambitions to drive economic growth.
It has been a competitive process with other LEPs which partners across Greater Birmingham and Solihull have entered into with gusto, and I sense we’re confident of the outcome.
The SEP is entirely public and you can see on our website the full extent of our asks and the details of the 52 projects for which we are seeking funding.
They are interventions that balance quick economic impact with a long-term approach. A number of key interventions capitalise on the advent of HS2 to ensure this once in a generation opportunity delivers economic transformation.
Whilst inevitably the headlines next week will be taken by the value of the Local Growth Fund we’ve secured, it’s important to remember this is only part of the SEP.
The real value lies in getting Government on board with our plans to drive long-term growth.
Through this process they have become an active partner in our ambition to re-establish our city region as the leading economy outside London.
So, whilst the next phase in the GBSLEP’s journey promises to be an exciting one, it is worth looking back on how we have got to this stage in order to understand how this differs from previous appoaches to transforming regional growth.
The journey began over three years ago with the formation of the LEP and, a few months later, the appointment of Lord Heseltine by the Prime Minister to look at ways to rebalance our national economy.
By the time Lord Heseltine chose the historic civic surroundings of Birmingham Town Hall to launch his report ‘No Stone Unturned’ in October 2012, the GBSLEP had already hit its stride.
The plan was to bring together the public, private and third sectors, alongside colleagues from our great academic institutions and drive economic renaissance.
The vehicle was to be a shared vision in the form of our ‘Strategy for Growth’ – a unique programme tailored to the needs of the LEP area and owned by all our partners.
Over the last three years it has become clearer and clearer that the importance of this consensus and teamwork simply cannot be overstated.
The renewed sense of purpose, of speaking with one voice and working for a common good is palpable – and has not gone unnoticed at Westminster and Whitehall.
Equally important is the way Greater Birmingham has already shown massive resilience in terms of its ability to fight back – whichever set of data you chose, the economic indicators are encouraging.
Our City Region was, without doubt, hit harder than most by the recession but we have bounced back even stronger.
Unemployment across the LEP stood at over 76,000 in February 2012 is now a shade under 48,000, and is steadily falling month after month.
Inward investment – a vital indicator of future prosperity – has hit record levels with almost 6,000 jobs being created or safeguarded in the LEP last year through 62 individual projects.
On a wider West Midlands basis, the latest figures show exports at £27.8bn, an increase of 30% since the start of 2011. In fact, the West Midlands can claim it is the only UK region with a trade surplus with China, and one of only three in the EU.
But perhaps the most important indicator of all is the upsurge in investment intentions of business with regular stories of new commitments such as the recently announced designer outlet in Cannock. At the heart of our region, in Birmingham City Centre we see development underway within the Enterprise Zone, which is on course to house 2,500 new jobs by the end of this year.
Impressive as our region’s fightback is, we are fully aware that some of the challenges go much deeper, for instance unemployment in some parts of the LEP remains at unacceptable levels, particularly amongst young people.
Therefore, perhaps the most important aspect of the LEP’s co-ordinating role is our plan to tackle the skills gap which has, for so long, been both a barrier to sustainable prosperity and a waste of talent.
In so doing, and encouraging the new competitive sectors – such as digital and creative businesses – we will ensure our economy is more resilient to future economic shocks, so that Greater Birmingham never again suffers in the way it did in the last recession.
So, as we await the Government’s announcement, it is worth reflecting that whilst the LEP does not itself create a single job, it has created a framework and a sense of teamwork which underpins our economic revival.
The current optimism is testament to the efforts and co-operation of everybody involved in ‘Team Greater Birmingham’.