The next decade won’t be plain sailing for our region. Far from it. The forecasts for growth are that we’ll fall further behind the rest of the country. Thousands of manufacturing jobs are in peril from automation. And we’re off-course to meet our goals to cut carbon. But that is why this book is so important: to lay out an ambition to bend this future, to shoot for a decade that transforms opportunities not simply for some, but for all. It’s an ambition for a golden decade.
As our authors make clear, no-one is going to hand this to us. But as Carl Richardson explains, the world is going to change a lot between the Commonwealth Games and the first HS2 trains rolling into Curzon Street. The global economy will power ahead. It’s centre of gravity will continue its shift to the Indo-Pacific. And for a region once known as the workshop of the world that is an extraordinary opportunity as long as we continue to think entrepreneurially – and globally. Success, as Paul Cadman and Colleen Fletcher make clear will need us to remember two things; no-one can succeed alone and so collaboration between the huge networks of good people in our region will be critical. And so will our sheer resilience, industriousness and comfort level with change.
What shines through the essays here, is a confidence that our region has it within our grasp to lead the green, digital, creative revolution that will transform the times ahead. Margot James, Lee Barron, Pat McFadden, Jim O’Boyle, Beverley Nielson, and Martin Freer all explain in different ways how we are uniquely placed to make the green future. The ‘maker’ ethos is coded deep in our region’s DNA. But the prize for getting this right is immense.
As Margot James writes, leading in autonomous transport, carbon neutral mobility and the digital economy could help create over half a million jobs and ‘ensure the region’s economy matches the national average within the next half decade’. But as Pat McFadden explains success will require robust, consistent, long-term industrial policy. We cannot leave everything to the market. That is clear from Jim O Boyle’s illustration of how the sheer scope and scale of Coventry’s partnerships is helping deliver progress. And as Lee Barron explains, there will be no progress worth is name without an approach that rewards the innovation, skill and sheer hard work of workers themselves.
Underpinning this green shift is of course the revolution in energy. And as Beverley Nielson sets out, given the deadlines we have, our region cannot succeed without embracing the full spectrum of green energy solutions. And as Martin Freer bluntly reminds us, we won’t hit our net zero carbon targets without tackling the hardest problem of all, which is decarbonising heat.
Cllr Sharon Thompson and Jean Templeton set out how we can re-organise a rebuilding of the safety nets for the most vulnerable and Ashley Bertie forcefully reminds us, true progress has got to roll back the scandal of child poverty.
Finally, our writers bring a hugely welcome focus on just how all these big trends and ambitions are actually going to transform our places. The sheer scale of the investment transforming Birmingham, Coventry and the Black Country is set out on all its magnificent dimensions by Cllr Ian Ward and Jonathan Bloom who set out how the region truly is becoming ‘investment central’.
But, we have moved on a long way from the sort of ‘box-building’ regeneration of the old days, when ‘renewal’ meant throwing up a few apartments blocks in city centres. That’s why Simon Marks’ essay about the art of place-making is so welcome; place-making is an art, its complicated but there are a few key elements, that Simon sets out, that increase the chances of success. And amongst the key to success is culture.
Martin Sutherland’s extraordinary experience leading Coventry’s City of Culture year is a lesson for all of us, in the way culture can re-animate and inspire a place. His lessons are not simply for a one-off year. They should be for every year. As are the lessons set out by Adam Tranter, who chides us that at in the past at some point, we lost sight of the simple truth that for thousands of years, cities have been hubs for people to live, work and meet; ‘hives of interaction between people, using the natural density to prosper socially and economically’. Yet somehow we ended up redesigning our cities around private motor vehicles, and so too many ‘town and city centres are now through routes to get someplace else’. That error now needs unravelling.
Making all this very tangible is the vision set out by Paul Thandi CBE DL, the chief executive of the NEC Group, whose essay exemplifies the re-imagination of place that is now possible because of the many shifts now underway. Paul sets out how around the airport in Solihull, an incredible vision is taking shape to build thousands of new homes, together with ‘leisure and community spaces with the highest quality schooling and healthcare services’ with ‘easy access to local, national and international travel’. It is quite simply, the region’s new gateway to the world.
The final word in our book goes to my friend, mentor and political partner Jack Dromey, one of the founding co-Chairs on the West Midlands Forum. We dedicate this book to Jack’s memory, his inspiration, his energy. Few people I have ever met were able to build coalitions like Jack. He was always focused on what progress would mean to ‘Joe and Josephine Soap in the Dog and Duck in Erdington’. He was always clear about what was right.
But he was always pragmatic about how good people of different views needed to come together, to work hard to make change happen. In his final essay, which he was working on the day before he died, Jack once again looked forward to the future, and the changing world of work.
He could see how the green revolution could reshape our world for the better. But he understood too, the urgency of the moment; ‘There is much to do’ he wrote, ‘and little time to achieve it before it’s too late’. Jack will never be forgotten by those who worked with Jack – and often in my case, for Jack. Delivering on the dreams in this book, would be one fine way to honour him.