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“Shaping the future of the Midlands Engine”

What is the Midlands Engine I hear you say? How does it link to the Combined Authority? And what is Birmingham’s role in it?

As an alternative to bamboozling you with detailed plans or lengthy explanations, let me tell you that it is simply a public-private partnership (councils and Local Enterprise Partnerships – LEPs) across the Midlands whose core purpose is to harvest greater investment and drive more infrastructure initiatives, especially transport, to accelerate growth and bring more jobs to the region.

The Government and, in particular, the Prime Minister, Theresa May, see the Midlands Engine as a key driver of economic growth in the UK, with the West Midlands Combined Authority and Birmingham itself as central forces in this.

There has been some important coverage about this in the press recently, and I strongly encourage you to read this article:

You’ll see that it reinforces a message we have been pushing for some time, namely that the Midlands is a vital part of the national economy – and that the West Midlands and Birmingham, especially, have both huge potential and a renewed energy and will help deliver both more growth and a re-balancing of the UK economy.

And with the Conservative Party conference coming to the city at the start of October we should expect more announcements and excitement in the coming weeks.

So, be in no doubt that both political and economic momentum are building in our favour. The city, deservedly, is enjoying and benefitting from an economic renaissance:

  • the construction of the new HQ building for HSBC’s UK retail banking arm is well under way;
  • the HQ for High Speed 2 Ltd is now established and growing;
  • the half a billion-pound Paradise Development is well underway;
  • the Enterprise Zone is expanding;
  • Birmingham Smithfield is coming to market for investors and developers and will transform the visitor economy;
  • the new Hydraforce factory at the Advanced Manufacturing Hub in Aston is diversifying the economy and creating local jobs.

The list goes on (and on), demonstrating a renewed confidence and investment in Birmingham and making it clearer than ever that we are Britain’s second city and an engine in our own right.

As we look to the future and think innovatively about how we utilise our assets, invest in infrastructure and ensure all our residents benefit, we can also look to the past for inspiration.

On this front, the Government itself has been looking to the Midlands, and more specifically Birmingham. The policy initiatives of one of the founding fathers of modern Birmingham and local, municipal government, Joseph Chamberlain, have come into focus. His call for civic entrepreneurship, social reform and investment in infrastructure helped pave the way for a successful and dynamic city.

A century later these are all important issues for Theresa May’s administration because they are all seen as vital to a prosperous and inclusive economy. Infrastructure, in particular, formed the bedrock of Birmingham’s past industrial successes; with the canal network, followed by the railways supporting industrial growth and opening up markets.

So the new wave of investment in infrastructure is hugely important and the Government’s commitment is vital. High Speed 2 is the big ticket item. Much like the Victorian railways, high speed rail will not only improve the movement of people and goods but, more importantly, also act as a catalyst for growth. The arrival of High Speed 2 will mark a new era for the city, the West Midlands and the Midlands, further accelerating and building on the great successes we have experienced to date. How we utilise its potential has been the focus for significant work for the combined authority, the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP and, of course, the city council.

The Curzon Investment Plan, launched last week, demonstrates local commitment and innovation harnessing the opportunities of national infrastructure investment with the local tools made available through an expanded Enterprise Zone. The plan is the culmination of two years of technical work, negotiation and planning. It follows the Curzon Masterplan, launched in 2014, which came as an exciting innovation in itself with a vision to utilise investment in a new high speed rail station to unlock growth. The investment plan represents nearly a billion pounds of local infrastructure funding to drive growth not only in the city centre but across a wider geography. Improving transport links from High Speed 2 to local communities is a key component of the plan and funding is available to bring the Midland Metro into east Birmingham and north Solihull.

As we forge ahead, we will need to harness initiatives such as High Speed 2 and success stories such as the city centre to benefit the whole of Birmingham and drive the Midlands Engine to success. What we must also do is utilise this opportunity and the lessons learnt from the past to shape the future for residents. Again, Joseph Chamberlain provides some very useful pointers here. Clearly, we have much more to do.

And a final message for now. As we shape the Midlands Engine what will success look like? It’s simple. Inclusive growth, which ensures more good jobs are created for local people who, themselves, have the skills to secure them.