The coming decade will be an era of renewal and hope for the West Midlands. We will use our outstanding expertise, innovation and talent, a powerful legacy of our proud industrial history, to be leaders in the coming global transformation in mobility, green energy, and the digital economy.
To do this, we must make the West Midlands the essential centre of the global manufacturing economy. Our cities and towns should be a welcoming home for world leading advanced manufacturing and engineering firms. Our universities and research centres will drive forward advances in autonomous transport, carbon neutral mobility and the digital economy. The whole region will work together to create clusters of businesses to meet the needs of emerging high growth markets.
Succeeding here will create over half a million jobs and ensure the region’s economy matches the national average within the next half decade. This will make the West Midlands one of the most prosperous regions in the nation by 2032.
How do we get there?
The first step is to be relentlessly focussed on innovation. The West Midlands already has one of the highest rates of business investment in R&D in the country, at over £400 a head.
Yet for each pound business spends, the public sector spends less than a pound. Other regions get two, or even three, times as much. Over the next decade, we should focus national public investment in R&D to drive industrial innovation in our region, whether creating a Gigafactory to power electric cars or developing the video games and connected healthcare systems of the future.
We know an innovation led route to growth can work, because it is working already. Last year, the West Midlands attracted over £460 million in investment for high growth companies. In the Automotive and Machinery sectors, the midlands is home to over a fifth of the UK’s high growth companies.
Our digital economy is booming, growing by an average of 7.6 per cent a year between 2014 and 2019, the fastest in Britain. It’s projected to add almost three billion to our economy and create over 50,000 new jobs in the next four years alone. We’re home to over 14,000 tech and digital businesses, the largest regional cluster in the UK.
In advanced manufacturing, we’ve seen significant gains. Think of Norton choosing to build their new motorcycle factory in Solihull, Lotus Advanced engineering coming to Warwickshire or Remedy Health developing 3-D printed personalised nutrition from their base in Birmingham, creating a business valued at over £50 million in just two years.
One reason for this growth is the West Midlands’ strength of being outstandingly well-connected digitally, physically, and culturally to the world. With the highest rate of 5G coverage in Britain, and the best internet coverage in the UK, we’re well on the way to making the Midlands the best-connected region of Britain.
Over the next decade, we’ll strengthen those connections at an incredible rate, with High-Speed Rail coming to the region in 2026, cutting journey times to London to under 40 minutes. This, alongside investments in our cities’ and towns’ transport networks, from Coventry’s very light rail programme to the expansion of the West Midlands Metro, will ensure our connections to the world are as strong physically as they are digitally, meaning ideas, people and innovation will all move faster in the West Midlands.
We should take this spirit of connectedness even further over the next decade, using our strengths in aerospace, automotive, and rail manufacturing and digital technologies to expand our presence in the space sector. The west midlands can become a home for the manufacture of satellites, spacecraft, and launch vehicles. On the services side, we have the potential to take a tenth of the UK space applications market, creating an industry worth over £1.5billion by the end of the decade.
One reason we can move at speed is that we are a young, vibrant region – one of the youngest in Europe, with almost a third of our population under 25. Our challenge over next decade is to ensure that every young person has the opportunity and skills to succeed. No-one should lack qualifications.
We need to ensure that every one of our people have a chance to learn and grow in their careers. We can do this by ensuring thousands of young West Midlander’s can start apprenticeships and that every one of us should have the opportunity to study while working through the new lifelong loan entitlement.
Those of us in the education sector have a special responsibility here to help create those opportunities. At Warwickshire Manufacturing Group (WMG) and Warwick University, we’re educating one-thousand-degree apprentices, have two academies for young engineers in Coventry and Solihull, while our new Skills Centre offers short courses on vital technologies. Over the next decade, I want to see us go further, creating a skills framework, bringing together Universities, local colleges and industry, so that whether you’re starting your education journey or looking to update your skills, the West Midlands will be the place to learn and grow.
This skills revolution is needed for us to become a region where well-paid, high value work is the standard, with salaries well above the national average. It is the people of our region who make it so special, so they deserve to be well rewarded for their hard work.
The rewards for the productivity and skills of our people should return to the community, not only from higher pay, but also from a world class public realm, whether building on the Commonwealth games by strengthening our leisure and sports facilities or improving our housing and healthcare.
Here, economic growth will support the development of stronger public services, with more local control of the tax revenues created by firms and individuals. This will help us address local priorities, whether improving life expectancy, reducing our carbon emissions by half, or building sustainable, affordable homes for social rent.
That’s my vision for a golden decade for the region – a growing economy based on our heritage and ingenuity, transforming the world through innovation, technology, and skills, connected to the world and each other, with the rewards for our efforts benefitting all in our community.