A blueprint to increase private sector jobs by 100,000 and boost the West Midlands economy by £8.2 billion by 2020 has been unveiled.
Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has launched a “Strategy For Growth”, with six priorities designed to hit ambitious targets to drive economic growth.
The plans include increasing the number of successful businesses, improving skills and boosting digital connectivity across the region.
Despite the launch coming on the back of cabinet debate on the future of funding in the regions, LEP chairman Andy Street said having a mission in place was the most important objective for the body.
The strategy will be central to a push to win funding from Europe and from a single funding pot initiative launched by Lord Heseltine.
However, doubts about the future of the Heseltine plan have this week been voiced by Business Secretary Vince Cable.
But the LEP is still hoping the Heseltine plan will be rubber-stamped next month despite Mr Cable appearing to rule it out.
Mr Street told the Post: “This describes what is going to happen over the next few years. It is not a piece of paper that is going to be sitting on someone’s desk and never be referred to – it drives everything.
“This gives a framework to everything that is going to make a difference.”
He added: “A strategy that we can all get around is more important to me than a single growth pot.
“This is the means to delivering the strategy. The single growth pot doesn’t come for two years and I am not going to sit around for all that time. This is going to inform what Marketing Birmingham, the Chamber of Commerce, colleges and universities are all doing now.
“The destiny of the LEP isn’t dependent on the single growth pot.”
Mr Street said the strategy was drawn up based on the feedback of more than 400 businesses.
He said the LEP had to make some choices in terms of priorities in light of the difficult economic environment. The result is six priorities which aim to increase private employment, cut unemployment and boost the economy.
• Growing the number of successful businesses.
• Building sector strengths and opportunities.
• Stimulating innovation in products, services and businesses.
• Improving skills talent pool.
• Improving physical and digital connectivity.
• Optimising physical, cultural and environmental assets.
The Strategy For Growth relies on work and input from the private sector and the nine local authorities which form Greater Birmingham’s LEP.
The proposals target growth in high value-added industries, including advanced manufacturing, life sciences, professional services, environmental technologies and digital and creative.
The strategy targets high job-creation sectors, including tourism, healthcare, construction and food and drink, and aims to create 70,000 jobs in its priority sectors by 2020. It also aims to grow the region’s visitor economy by a fifth in that time.
The LEP has promised full transparency on the project with a website showing progress.
One of the targets is to increase the regional economic measure of “gross value-added” per head by 2020, and to see it exceed the national average by 2025.
Skills are also a key target, and the LEP – which oversees an area generating £35 billion of economic activity – aims to have 25 per cent of the region’s firms working with schools and colleges by 2025.
Lord Heseltine’s funding plan, which would see LEPs across the country bid for part of a £60 billion Whitehall pot, will be central to funding the Midland strategy.
However, Mr Street said the proposals took into account funding from Europe’s largest city centre enterprise zone – set to boost the region’s economy by £2.8 billion – and existing funds from the likes of the Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Initiative. He also said having a strong strategy in place would be key to securing European funding for the region.
He said: “The Government has made it clear that LEPs will front the applications for European funding and that will have to happen next year. Whatever comes from that will be focused on these areas, and having a clear strategy means you are more likely to win funding.”
Mr Street, who is also managing director of John Lewis, said he had been pleased with the progress Greater Birmingham’s LEP had so far made – and believed it was well placed to out-perform others when it comes to single pot bidding.
While the amount of funding is unclear, what is known is LEPs up and down the country will have to make a case to win funding to boost economic growth, and Mr Street said he welcomed the chance to compete with other regions.
“It is a competition, and I welcome that,” he said. “We have to approach it looking for a bigger proportion what you would expect we’d get,” he said.
“The critical point is we have a well thought through strategy that everyone is behind, and that is what makes me confident that we will do disproportionately well.
“If we hadn’t done all this work I couldn’t sit here with all this confidence.”
Some of the concern about plans for devolution towards the LEPs centres around opposition from Whitehall to losing powers and whether there is the will in the Treasury to push the plans through.
However, Mr Street has said George Osborne and fellow Treasury minister Greg Clark, who was Minister of State for Decentralisation until September 2012, have shown they are supportive.
He said: “It has been signed off by the Prime Minister and Greg Clarke’s role is to push through the local agenda.
“In any case, I believe that the Chancellor is desperate for growth and he believes in this.”