April 2015 Andy Street, GBSLEP Chair.

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Andy Street, Chair

Andy Street, Chair

 

Andy Street, GBSLEP Chair’s Key Note Speech to the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce Annual Dinner on 23 April 2015

 

It is a great time to be delivering a speech here in Birmingham as the city is bouncing back! Previous recessions have hit us hard, but this time the economic recovery is positive.

When I addressed this dinner three years ago (that time as the warm-up act for Lord Heseltine!), I spoke confidently about the future belonging to cities and city regions and that is just what has happened.

The Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership’s vision is about re-establishing our role as the major driver of the UK economy outside London. We now have real evidence of our progress.

Allow me a moment of indulgence to set this out: the area is first in terms of exports; first in terms of inward investment; and first for business start-ups outside of London. We are also likely to be first in terms of real estate returns. When we look at economic growth, GVA, we are third in the UK – so not good enough yet. The number of people claiming job seekers allowance has fallen from 71,668 at its peak in February 2012 to 38,534 – a reduction of 33,000. 5% more people are now in the workforce too than in 2010. It’s important to remember that these are not just statistics about growing the economy; peoples’ lives are being transformed.

And if you consider the impact of future investment as well, you can’t help but conclude that this is genuinely our time.

The advent of HS2 is a once in a generation opportunity. It has already begun to make a real difference to the area. We have secured the HS2 national construction headquarters which will be based in 2 Snowhill and will create up to 1,500 jobs. The city will also co-host the National College for High Speed Rail. This is the first time that we have won a national competition in years. Our bid was successful as the local authorities, business and academics put their collective weight behind it and presented a compelling business case that excited Ministers and the judging panel.

The Enterprise Zone also represents a change of attitude and an innovative approach. The nine local authorities in the LEP collectively agreed that our Enterprise Zone should be located in the city centre as they recognised that this would be the area that would drive the greatest growth. We have since agreed a £275m Investment Plan, funded by borrowing by Birmingham City Council against the uplift in business rates. Work has started on the Paradise redevelopment and plans to take forward the Curzon, Snowhill and Smithfield areas have been well received and will be transformational. All credit to Waheed Nazir, Director of Planning and Regeneration at BCC for his genuine original thinking in driving this.

So how have we moved from economic laggard to economic leader? There are three reasons:

  1. Great teamwork – the best of the private sector has come together with the best of the public sector to drive growth. I must cite the role Jerry Blackett has played in this regard – he has been a tireless centre-forward for Team Greater Birmingham!
  2. Sector based approach – we have focused on the sectors where we have a real competitive advantage. Advanced manufacturing is the obvious ‘poster boy’, but there are other key growth sectors like creative and digital. Half of our new businesses are in this sector and Birmingham City University produce more graduate talent in this area than anywhere outside London. Another key sector for us is energy, as demonstrated by the University of Birmingham being awarded the Energy Systems Catapult and the six Midlands universities receiving funding for an Energy Research Accelerator.
  3. The human story – people in business make decisions on human factors. Therefore our cultural offer is important, as is the choice of housing and the quality of our schools. The fact that more thirtysomething Londoners are choosing to move here than anywhere else in the country should give us huge optimism in this area. As should Moseley being rated as the best place to live in the Britain by the Sunday Times.

These three things are the things that unite cities of the world – from Boston to Berlin to Barcelona. We are showing that we can match these global cities.

So my message is one of potential and one of ambition. It is not, however, one of complacency. We need to look honestly at what we are not yet good enough at and address the following three issues:

  1. Talent and skills – while we have some good educational attainment results, some brilliant Further Education colleges and a burgeoning knowledge economy, the number of people with low or no skills is shamefully high. Our levels of productivity are also still hugely challenging which is a further reflection of our skills levels. There are 30,000 people claiming unemployment benefit in Birmingham and Solihull, but at the same time there are 60,000 job vacancies – that’s two for every one of them. Something is not right. This is why today I am launching an initiative between the GBSLEP and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to help support local people into local jobs. In his speech outlining the Long Term Economic Strategy for the Midlands, the Chancellor announced funding for 100 new work coaches for Birmingham and Solihull – that’s a £5m investment to help unemployed people find work. To maximise this opportunity we need your help. We need businesses to give advance notice of their vacancies to DWP so that they can get people ready for the recruitment process. We also need you to offer work experience opportunities which will help give people the confidence they need to be successful at interview.

I am pleased to announce the Hammersons are supporting our endeavour by providing accommodation for some of these work coaches.

  1. Devolution – this is our time. Whatever the outcome of the election, we need to seize the moment. Business welcomes the commitment by local authorities to form a Combined Authority. We want it to reflect the full, natural economic geography of the area. Business also needs to play its part in its development if we are to achieve the best outcome.
  2. Role of the private sector – Greater Birmingham benefits from great public sector leadership as demonstrated by Sir Albert Bore’s and Bob Sleigh’s decision to pool resources from Birmingham and Solihull councils to form a Joint Economic Unit. Some private sector companies have also stepped forward, including those of the LEP Board Directors, but we still need to work through how the wider private sector can contribute, as currently the offer is fragmented.

For all of the above reasons, this is a great time to open a little shop in Birmingham. Our city region has fought back from the recession faster than anywhere else in the country and, importantly, is insulating itself for the future.

We are on the cusp of something very exciting. We have every reason to be ambitious and confident. We must not allow others to seize the headlines.

If we can answer our triple challenges of skills, devolution and the role of the private sector not only will we lead the region, but we will be the region leading Britain and leading internationally.

 

ENDS

For press enquiries, please contact Sarah Burton or Nikki Gooch at NC Creative Group – 0121 711 6510 or email sarah@nccreativegroup.com, nikki@nccreativegroup.com

For further information regarding GBSLEP, please contact Katie Trout at GBSLEP – 0121 303 9867 or email katie.trout@birmingham.gov.uk