Birmingham’s business community has been “inefficient” for years and “almost at war” with the Black Country, according to the city’s new Chamber of Commerce president.
Michael Ward, the new man at the helm of the Birmingham Chamber, said “tribalism” across the West Midlands has cost the region dearly in recent years.
The 52-year-old corporate lawyer, who heads Gateley’s corporate team in England as senior partner, has called for a “one voice” approach across the region, including unity among MPs in backing Birmingham.
And he has warned that the new Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership is the “only game in town” to drive forward regeneration across the West Midlands.
Mr Ward said: “I think we have been operating inefficiently for a number of years. I am talking about the whole community, the Chamber, Marketing Birmingham, the CBI, IOD, Birmingham Forward, Birmingham Future.
“We should all be joined up here. I think there are too many organisations doing the same things – there is a danger of duplication.
“This region has always suffered at a political level because we have not spoken with one voice. We cannot get the MPs to get together behind Birmingham.”
He said the Manchester area had benefited from greater unity, with businesses and residents in the likes of Bolton and Wigan comfortable with the Greater Manchester concept.
“Here the Black Country is almost at war with the people of Birmingham. It is almost tribalism. Lots of presidents have tried over the years (to change things) and got nowhere.”
He cited the national stadium issue as an example, when proposed rival sites at the NEC and Coventry eventually lost out to Wembley Stadium.
“Everybody knew the right answer, where it should be. But we didn’t seem to be able to unite behind it.
“The local enterprise partnership is the changing landscape that gives us an opportunity. We cannot be seen to be missing out on that one.
“The LEP gives us an opportunity. ‘Do not waste a crisis’ comes to mind. The LEP is also an opportunity we could squander. Whitehall could kill it overnight but why would they in this climate?”
He praised the appointments to the LEP. “They have business people at the LEP. There were too many public sector people in the RDAs. We need cutting edge business nous pushing it forward. I think we are all pulling together to support it.
"We need the best people on there. Whitehall sometimes grinds people down but the Government needs LEPs to work. It is the only game in town in terms of co-ordinating all the regeneration activities that have gone on in the past.”
Mr Ward advocated a business hub for Birmingham. “We have three meeting rooms here at the Chamber. Why does the CBI need a meeting room? Why does the IOD need a separate meeting room?
“I would love the Birmingham Chamber to be the business hub but we are not in the best place to unite the business community; we are a bit too far away.” He said the ideal location would be “within the inner ring road.”