“For certain the global economy has started 2016 in a much more uncertain way than I suspect any of us could have anticipated. Against that background it is even more important to reflect on the strong foundations which have been put in place by the excellent team work across the GBS area.
The highlight of our economic renaissance has to be the increase in private sector jobs since 2010. This now measures 85,200 putting us well on the way to our 2020 target. Similarly last week saw confirmation that unemployment is still falling steadily as the numbers claiming job seeker’s allowance and universal credit are down to half the level it was four years ago. This significant achievement has been delivered by vibrant businesses across the region, supported by targeted interventions such as the GBSLEP’s 100 “Work Coaches”; an initiative with the Department for Work and Pensions.
Our success in attracting foreign investment has been sustained, securing more projects than any other LEP area for the second year running. The area’s strong entrepreneurial spirit also has helped to drive growth. Our LEP area had the highest proportion of ‘fast growth SME’s’ (as defined by 2011 start-ups achieving a turnover of £1m by 2014) of any LEP – outside London. Calls to the Growth Hub also reinforce this trend. Since its launch in October the Growth Hub has received over 1,500 enquiries from across the region with more people asking about setting up a business than any other topic.
Despite this slug of good news, there are still serious challenges that remain, notably the shortage of appropriate skills across the region. Undoubtedly we are making some useful headway as the proportion of the population with level 3 qualifications has improved but, measuring our performance against the national average, there is still much more to do as others areas are improving faster.
One of the clearest signs of regeneration; the Birmingham City Centre Enterprise Zone, is going from strength to strength. The demolition of the old library at Paradise Forum is a real milestone, even if for those of us who studied there it is tinged with sadness! Meanwhile, across the road at Arena Central the foundations for HSBC’s retail headquarters show real promise for the city. Together they make up some of the 900,000 sq ft of office space currently under construction, up from less than 20,000 sq ft just a few years ago; progress indeed! Arguably though, the best progress was the confirmation that the Enterprise Zone will be extended around the Curzon St HS2 terminal, bringing the master planning of this area a step closer to reality.
It is not just Birmingham City Centre that is experiencing increased activity; Solihull reported vibrant growth in 2014/15, and the Local Growth Fund is supporting projects all across the LEP area. A strong pipeline of projects coming through in the next year, such as the Mid Cannock road and rail freight interchange will provide new jobs and projects in Uttoxeter and Burton will provide jobs and homes for the local area.
Finally, the year concluded with the signing of the WMCA Devolution Deal, and the launch of Midlands Engine at Birmingham University. Having been enthusiastic supporters of Devolution, the LEP Board naturally confirmed the decision to join the new CA alongside our Local Authority partners, and we will be ready to exploit Government support for the Midlands Engine.
Personally, it seems like the conclusion of the first part of our journey, as it was back in 2012 that we hosted Michael Heseltine at Birmingham’s Town Hall to unveil his vision for regional devolution. Back then real change seemed a distant dream, but this LEP, working collaboratively with Partners has given the region and Government the confidence to press “devolve” …
Now, more than ever, it is up to us to deliver on the promise, but we do at least have that precious commodity – momentum! Good luck for the challenges in 2016.”