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The political leaders of the West Midlands need to set aside their differences if the region is to win the economic battles of the 21st century, Lord Digby Jones has claimed.

The former government minister and business chief says that the towns and cities of the region from Coventry, to Wolverhampton, to Worcester and Stoke-on-Trent should stop competing and instead get behind a regional economic drive.

In a swipe at the foundation of separate political and economic structures, in particular the local enterprise partnerships, he says that only as a coherent region will the West Midlands be best placed to exploit the economic recovery.

But Lord Jones of Birmingham, believes this squabbling needs to end.

Speaking during a visit to the Birmingham Post’s Fort Dunlop offices he said: “Political leaders in the West Midlands have got to bury the hatchet with each other and start understanding that your rivals are not down the M1 or up the M6. Your rivals are in Shenzen, in Bangalore, in Sao Paulo.

“So the way to go to market is as a city region, Birmingham the capital and the West Midlands the region. It could almost include the East Midlands. In Rolls-Royce, Bombardier and Toyota, it has got some big high quality businesses.”

It is a statement that will not go down well in some parts of the Black Country where the foundation of a separate Local Enterprise Partnership was a clear defence against any attempt by Birmingham to dominate. Walsall Council leader Mike Bird has been particularly opposed to suggestions of merger between the Birmingham and Black Country LEPs.

But Lord Jones, the former head of the Confederation of British Industry, says that is the way to go.

“I would say the Birmingham brand has diminished in the last few years. Manchester has stolen a march, in terms of infrastructure Leeds and Newcastle have been doing better.

Lord Jones, who favours a mayoral system of city leadership, said: “I don’t think the leadership in Birmingham has been doing that good for the last few years.

“We need to get that brand overseas. We’re lucky because at the moment we have the most successful automotive manufacturer in Europe – JLR, in Solihull through Castle Bromwich and out to the engine plant in Wolverhampton.

“Its spiritual home is here and we can go out to the world and sell that. We’re lucky, we’ve also got JCB and Triumph Motorcycles and they sell everywhere. So there’s a lot where we can start riding on its back. But Birmingham has got to stop talking to itself and start talking to the world.”

Lord Jones also call on the Government to get behind Lord Heseltine’s No Stone Unturned report.

There was widespread disappointment that the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne had not done enough to shift national government budgets to the regions. He was also banging the drum for apprenticeships and urging industry, particularly small businesses to have the confidence to invest, speculate on export growth and take on young people.

He pointed out that this September is the first time that new apprentices in the UK, which total 600,000, have outnumbered new entrants to university – now at 550,000.

“One of the biggest challenges is that we haven’t got enough skilled people. There is no excuse for young people not getting a skill. We’re not talking rocket science, we’re talking read, write, count and operate a computer.

“The small business community needs to have the confidence to go out, get a kid and put them on the apprenticeship. Teach them. Go and find an export market, and whatever you do, win.

And he called on the Government to get behind apprenticeships. “If we are not going to spend money bombing Syria, then let’s spend the same money making sure the next generation are tooled up to win a far more important battle than the Middle East and that is the battle to get the kids into work and win in overseas markets.

“Birmingham is behind the game, we haven’t got enough skilled people and that’s a far bigger challenge than some of the international stuff we read about.”

It was last month announced that Lord Jones, who is both an ambassador for UK Trade and Investment and JLR among his many corporate roles, will be joined in the House of Lords by former Conservative leader of Birmingham City Council Mike Whitby. Did he have anything to say to his new colleague? “I dropped him a note saying ‘well done as one Brummie to another, come and join me in the chamber and bang the drum for Birmingham’.”

But he warned the new Lord Whitby: “He will find the debate is a little more polite, a little more refined and a little more knowledgeable than the council chamber in Birmingham.”