The new chairman of the Black Country shadow local enterprise partnership has vowed to sit down with his counterpart in Birmingham to thrash out issues affecting the two areas.
The managing director of Smethwick-based manufacturing firm Hadley Group, Stewart Towe, is leading the development of the partnership between local councils and employers after its revised bid was approved by central government.
He said he wanted to see a formalised structure where the heads of the local enterprise partnerships throughout the West Midlands met up on a regular basis to discuss issues which crossed over their individual boundaries.
He has already had one meeting with the chair of the Staffordshire local enterprise partnership about the i54 development, which borders both areas.
“We’ve got to sit down with the chairs of the LEPs to create a structure which can deal with cross-boundary issues,” he said.
He added: “I’ll be seeking a meeting with Birmingham as soon as possible so we can agree the joint issues we should be working on.”
Mr Towe said one of the first items on the table would be transport connections between Birmingham and the Black Country.
“The arterial route out of Birmingham to the west joining up with the M5 is not ideal at present for easy flow,” he said.
“I would like to see how we can improve that opportunity to leave Birmingham in a way which is more convenient to everybody, and also to enter Birmingham from the west.
“Every street is a two way street.
“We want to get more people into Birmingham for the retail and professional services and all the other good things we rely on Birmingham for, such as the access to the airport and station, which is intrinsic to the success of the Black Country.
“But, similarly, there are aspects of our own manufacturing base that we need people to come out of Birmingham to be visiting.
“It’s a two-way street – we want to encourage traffic in both directions.”
Local enterprise partnerships are the Government’s replacement for regional development agencies such as Advantage West Midlands, which it has scrapped.
They will not enjoy the same level of funding, but will instead be able make a bid from the new £1.4 billion regional growth fund.
The Black Country local enterprise partnership was given the go-ahead on its second attempt last week, after central government rejected its original bid in the summer and told it to go back to the drawing board and get more backing from industry.
During the bid process it also emerged that government officials wanted Black Country councils and business leaders to explain how they planned to forge links with their neighbours.
Mr Towe said the creation of the new local enterprise partnership was the first time the Black Country as an area had been officially recognised in Whitehall.
“It’s the first time the Black Country has been a recognised area at national level so it’s a step forward for us.”
He said planning, transport, tackling credit insurance issues, skills, access to finance and promoting international trade were key priorities for the partnership.
“We want to tackle planning issues to make it cheaper, less bureaucratic and quicker.
“We’ve got to push those changes that enable business to see the planning regime as a positive not a negative.”
He added that in terms of transport, the partnership wanted to crack down on the amount of time roadworks were allowed to go on for.
“When you look at some of the roadworks in the region, there must be quicker ways of doing things,” he said.
“There is a project on Burnt Tree island, near Dudley, which I think was a three-year programme. In a business context that sort of timetable is not acceptable
“We want to get roadworks done quicker, get coning to be more limited to the area under work and when areas are not under work to remove the obstructions.
“It’s a common sense issue that sometimes get lost in the bureaucracy of public sector thinking.”