Last week the Government published the Midlands Engine Strategy which sets out a £392 million investment programme containing 'concrete actions to address productivity barriers across the Midlands.' The productivity gap between the Midlands and the rest of the UK increased from 10% in 1997 to 15% in 2015, could this trend be arrested and reversed?
The document applies the Industrial Strategy Green Paper's overarching principles to address regionally-specific issues. For the Midlands, these are listed as a shortage of skilled workers; the fragmentation of the economy into small, poorly connected areas; and a lack of entrepreneurship and economic dynamism. It proposes to remedy this through the following measures:
1) A Midlands Skills Challenge will be set up to close the skills gap between the Midlands and rest of the country.
2) Midlands Connect and its partners will be instrumental in improving connectivity across important corridors in the region with the introduction of smart ticketing, establishment of 5G test beds and the development of an Integrated Command Hub to coordinate transport providers (The Midlands Connect Strategy 'Powering The Midlands Engine' has now been published separately.)
3) Funding to support important industrial clusters, such as advanced manufacturing and automotive industries.
4) Rolling out a Midlands Trade and Investment Programme to attract overseas investment
5) Funding to enhance quality of life, including £12 million to develop a Black Country Garden City.
The benefit of having a directly elected Mayor who will be able to 'use powers over skills, transport and planning to drive local growth' is referred to but the extent of these planning powers is unknown at this stage; clearly there is a need for a higher authority to ensure the objectives of the Midlands Engine Strategy are delivered without delays caused by political issues. The potential for such delays was apparent at the West Midlands Combined Authority Board Meeting in February where the local authority representatives had very different political agendas.
I'm suprised the document does not tackle the land supply issues directly. This suggests that it should complement the recommendations of the West Midlands Land Commission which does offer spatial solutions to not only housing land, but also the acute need for large-scale employment sites to accommodate the growing logistics sector market; something that interestingly is not referred to within the document.
Undoubtedly, these are exciting times for the Midlands and the Government's current thinking on the transformative impact of key infrastructure investment in improving productivity and bolstering the economy is again very apparent. Guess it's a watch this space...
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West Midlands, Midlands Engine Strategy, Birmingham