? £3.2 billion blueprint unveiled to kickstart the West Midlands’ economic recovery

A blueprint to kickstart the West Midlands economy and create long-term prosperity for the region and wider UK was put to Government on Tuesday.

With research suggesting the region could be hit harder than most by the Covid-19 lockdown, Kickstarting the West Midlands Economy: Our Investment Case to Government sets out the immediate actions needed to stimulate economy in the short term, in ways that will also support a long-term sustainable recovery that is both green and more inclusive.

The region’s political, business, and trade union leaders, who have collectively drawn up the investment plan, today called on Government to work with them to reset, rebuild and recharge the West Midlands.

It is believed the first opportunity to secure some of the funding needed will be next month, when the Government is expected to outline the next steps in its economic response to coronavirus.

The region’s blueprint, which is to be launched at a virtual press conference this morning (11:15am start) by Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street and Cllr Ian Brookfield, WMCA portfolio holder for economy and innovation and leader of City of Wolverhampton Council, seeks £3.2bn of investment over the next three years to boost recoveryfor local people and business, and make a step-change in tackling climate change.

It aims to build on the previous strong performance of the region’s economy, as well as the £2.7bn of Government investment secured since 2017.

The Mayor said: “The West Midlands economy was in good shape before the Coronavirus pandemic first struck, and we need to do everything we can to get back on our feet quickly, learning the lessons of our rebound from the financial crash of 2008/09.

“The plan is to build on our previous success and on the multi-billion investment we have already drawn in from Government, with the creation and retention of jobs front and centre. We want to keep as many people in work as possible, and for those who fall out we want to create new jobs and offer digital retraining opportunities in sectors such as construction, automotive, and the creative industries.

“As well as safeguarding people’s work in the short-term, we also want to use the opportunity created by coronavirus to re-shape our economy over the longer term, and think more about what we can do to become greener and more inclusive.

“The Government can demonstrate its commitment to the levelling-up agenda by backing this blueprint and continuing to invest in the West Midlands.”

The plan builds on existing success in the West Midlands, and proposes direct support to industry in three key areas alongside a commitment to invest in transport, housing and people, helping to drive a rapid economic recovery that will create or safeguard more than 135,000 jobs and build 35,000 new homes.

The three key business opportunities are:

  • Creating green manufacturing jobs by harnessing clean technology and electrification. A £614m investment package, including £250m towards a Gigafactory producing state-of-the-art batteries, will unlock 51,700 green jobs and improve the wellbeing of communities.
  • Turning HS2, Coventry City of Culture and the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games into jobs for local people by accelerating major infrastructure investment and supporting the recovery of the tourism and cultural sector, unlocking 33,000 jobs with an investment of £306m
  • Investing in healthcare innovation, capitalising on the region’s existing strengths as a centre for health research, and using this to improve the region’s health. This aims to create or safeguard 3,200 jobs through an investment of £137m

Cllr Brookfield said: “For our economy to recover quickly and thrive in the long-term, we need Government to help us improve our infrastructure. We’ve seen enormous changes to how people live, work and move around, and now is the time to invest in our people and digital, housing, and transport infrastructure. 

“This immediate economic injection will help communities now and pay dividends for generations by avoiding the risks of long-term scarring to those who risk being left behind, highlighted by experts like the Institute for Fiscal Studies.”

The blueprint has been developed closely with the region’s local enterprise partnerships, universities, business groups and local authorities. Major regional employers such as Severn Trent, the NEC Group, Birmingham Airport and National Express have also contributed their insight about the future economic picture and how the region can play its part in in securing a strong national recovery, levelling-up the West Midlands’ economy.

A key part of the blueprint centres around the need to support people’s jobs and improve the region’s infrastructure. Plans include:

  • Building better transport and digital links through an investment of £376m to drive productivity and create thousands of jobsin construction. Schemes include extending rail, metro and bus routes, £28m for enhanced digital connectivity and £16m to accelerate fibre connectivity in deprived areas.
  • Regenerating brownfield sites and building 35,000 new homes – at least 15,000 of which will be affordable using the WMCA’s own bespoke regional definition of affordable, with a focus on housing key workers. Plans include using a £200m investment package to regenerate derelict land and £24m for a new National Brownfield Institute in Wolverhampton.
  • Getting people back into work by using a £550m investment package to equip people with the skills needed for the future. This includes helping 38,400 young people obtain apprenticeships and work experience, retraining 20,000 workers for in-demand sectors such as health and social care, logistics and business services, and upskilling 24,000 for jobs for the future.
  • Backing the region’s businesses by helping thousands of companies adapt to the post-Covid-19 environment and move into to high-growth sectors and take new market opportunities. Support schemes will create or safeguard 43,900 jobs.

Tim Pile, chair of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership and a member of the steering group helping to create the blueprint, said: “This blueprint is a clear demonstration of the significant and distinctive opportunity we have in this region to accelerate economic recovery post Covid-19 and to come back even stronger. Creating new opportunities for our businesses and residents in areas that will be key drivers of sustainable economic growth going forward, such as low carbon and digital healthcare, builds on our existing strengths and secures future jobs.

“Working in collaboration across the private, public and education sectors has secured a compelling set of high-impact investments that can deliver tangible benefits in the short and medium term.

“The West Midlands already makes a substantial contribution to the UK economy and will play a critical role in achieving a strong national recovery. Now with Government’s support, we have the opportunity to accelerate this contribution even further.”

Regional secretary for TUC Midlands Lee Barron, who has also signed the blueprint, added: “The economic shock to the West Midlands through Covid-19 has the potential to impact on those who can least deal with it. Our response is crucial.

“We cannot allow this to scar generations with lost opportunities and unemployment. This powerful request, from all stakeholders, lays the foundations to build back better and to make sure we offer economic hope for the future.”

With a regional economy generating £105bn a year and a population of 4.2 million people, the West Midlands is the largest economy outside of London.