Regional economies need to get back to what they are good at to claw their way out of gloom, according to the director general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).
Speaking to the Post during a visit to the region, John Cridland said Birmingham and the Midlands as a whole should be building on excellence in manufacturing and innovation.
Mr Cridland, who was visiting the Birmingham Made Me Design Expo at Millennium Point said: “I thought the expo was a really good example of Birmingham shouting about what it is good at. It excels at innovation and manufacturing.
“Birmingham is great at manufacturing and Manchester has reinvented itself as a media city with the BBC going there.
“I want each part of the country to have a growth model. A thriving local economy has to build on its individual strengths.”
Mr Cridland also warned against the dangers of a recovering UK relying too much on London and the South East.
“We don’t want a new growth model to be too reliant on the pumping engine that is London,” he added.
“London is a dynamo for the economy but it is not a healthy economy if it is entirely dependent on London.
“We need to try to get growth all over the country – to spread the jam all over the bread.
“We used to talk about the North-South divide but at the moment it is London and everyone else.”
Emphasising the “London versus the rest of the country” theme, Mr Cridland said he was also concerned about regeneration and the state of the nation’s high streets.
“High streets are struggling because of empty shops and I don’t think that is going to be easily reversed,” he said.
“You struggle in London to get a reservation at a restaurant or seats at a show and at pretty much any time of the day people are drinking pints on the streets.
“London is going to grow faster and going to have more rich people, but a lot of that money is international money and a lot of those people are international guests.
“But you don’t have to go too far from London – north, south, east or west – to see high streets are dying.
“We have to rediscover our high streets. With the internet they aren’t going to be full of shops but community spaces and leisure facilities.
“There is a trend towards internet sales. You have to accept some are not going to open as shops because of online sales but let’s find other things we want to do. We have to reinvent high streets as a leisure experience and not just expect it to be a shopping experience.”
Admitting that he was as avid an internet shopper himself, Mr Cridland said the rise of coffee shops demonstrated the kind of alternate use high street shops can be put to.
“We all buy things on the internet,” he said. “I got upset when HMV closed but my wife said you buy a lot on Amazon.
“We like to shop on the internet but still like to go somewhere for a nice cup of coffee.
“Today we spend money on a latte or whatever, but ten years ago we didn’t.”
On the state of the economy, Mr Cridland said he was optimistic.
“I am feeling more positive about the economy picking up rapidly,” he said. “I think it has been a much better year for the UK, the Midlands and Birmingham.
“Talking to manufacturers today, those in the export market are seeing a real increase in export orders.
“I think we could see one per cent GDP growth this year after 2012 was flat and one per cent would give us a platform for two per cent in 2014.
“It’s nothing to write home about and people won’t feel we are growing fast but if we move from one per cent to two per cent we are on a trajectory and there will be more confidence to get out there and invest and spend.”
Mr Cridland had high praise for Jaguar Land Rover, after the firm announced record profits of £1.68 billion.
“To me the Jaguar Land Rover story is the classic example of the benefits of globalisation,” he added.
“Indian owners and money, with British engineering excellence and a German chief, selling cars in phenomenal numbers – particularly in China. Pooling what we are good at with Indian money and the Chinese market.”