After more than a decade of low investment and low growth alongside a failure to deliver a fair taxation system we are now facing a cost-of-living crisis compounded by an environmental crisis.
Those on the lowest incomes spend a higher proportion of their income on energy bills than those who are better off. So, when energy prices rise, they are hardest hit. The cost of essentials has gone up nationwide but here in the West Midlands more families than in any other region in England have been affected by the Government’s decision to cut universal credit by £20 a week.
In the short-term people need a plan to help with energy bills. That’s why we need a fully costed plan that would reduce energy bills by £200 per household across the board and a further £400 for those on the lowest incomes – funded in part by a windfall tax on the oil and gas companies making the most out of the current huge rise in gas prices.
But in the longer term the country needs a plan to manage the transition to net zero – and I believe this region can play a huge part in that.
For this to work, we need technological innovation and a proper partnership government, business and the public to make it happen.
We can’t simply load all the costs onto already hard-pressed households.
Many hard-working families across the West Midlands are already struggling to make ends meet, and a net-zero agenda that only the better off can afford adds an additional strain to their personal finances and impedes our ability to combat the climate crisis head-on.
There are reasons to be hopeful. We have a fantastic record of innovation in the West Midlands. We have a great network of universities. We have a young diverse workforce. We can lead the charge to make the most of this transition.
That starts with building on the opportunities that already exist.
Already we have an amazing facility like UK Battery Industrialisation Centre in Coventry which offers manufacturers the opportunity to test and make new batteries at industrial scale.
The state of the art, 18,500 square metre battery manufacturing development facility shows what a good, active industrial strategy from central government can do alongside the world-renowned research expertise of our higher education institutions.
It builds on our history in the West Midlands as a manufacturing heartland in partnership with the likes of Warwick University, Warwick Manufacturing Group and Coventry City Council.
UKBIC is designed to ensure that the UK can become a leading large-scale manufacturer of the batteries that will power our transport, store our energy and have applications in an ever-increasing range of fields.
Be in no doubt – countries that want to retain an automotive industry will need large scale battery manufacturing alongside the making of the vehicles themselves.
However, it is a mistake to have scrapped the industrial strategy in a pointless ideological move and legislate for a cap on investment spending at the very moment when we need to press ahead with the transition needed for our economy.
My hopes for the next 10 years are that we make the most of this transition and of the strengths that our region can bring.
In 2032 I hope to look back and see that the immense potential of the West Midlands has been utilised to build and create opportunities for people across the region.
To do that will require us to create and maximise opportunities. That’s why we have to commit to increasing our manufacturing resilience and build on or innovation strengths to create security in our supply chains, raise standards and create the jobs of the future in this country.
In the post-pandemic economy, we must grasp the moment and help to shape a more secure and resilient future for Britain and the West Midlands.