The managing director of employee-owned retailer John Lewis has been revealed as chairman of the new body set up to boost the economy of Birmingham and Solihull.
Andy Street will take the helm at the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), which takes over support for economic growth in the area from scrapped regional development agency Advantage West Midlands.
Although based in London, Birmingham-born Mr Street will be making frequent trips to the West Midlands to fulfil his role at the partnership, which brings together members from the public and private sector.
Mr Street has his work cut out for him at the LEP as much of its area suffers from high rates of unemployment and low private sector growth – but he said he was looking forward to the task ahead.
“The LEP development board has already outlined ambitious plans for the continuing economic rejuvenation of the region, and it will be a privilege to help deliver these plans,” he said.
“As a Midlander myself, I am personally excited by the prospect of using the skills I have developed as managing director of John Lewis for the benefit of the citizens of the region.”
The Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP is one of the largest in the country, comprising nine local authorities – Birmingham, Solihull, Cannock, East Staffordshire, Lichfield, Tamworth, Bromsgrove, Redditch and Wyre Forest.
Mr Street takes over from the outgoing chairman of the LEP development board, Bridget Blow, who has been doing the job on an interim basis.
She insisted that, despite his London-based role at John Lewis, Mr Street had a good understanding of the area the LEP covers.
“He has impeccable credentials and is a key player in the business community, and also has close local knowledge of the area, which will be invaluable assets as we drive forward.”
The announcement comes just a few weeks after John Lewis announced it was opening a new branch in Birmingham.
The retailer, whose employees all get a share in the group’s profits, announced it was building a £100 million store above New Street Station, creating 650 jobs when it opens in 2014.
Mike Whitby, leader of Birmingham City Council, welcomed the appointment: “Having someone of his calibre and reputation taking a lead will send a powerful message about our ambition for the future.
“I have worked closely with Andy on their recent commitment to a major new store at New Street Station, and so know he will be a passionate and committed chairman of our LEP – an LEP which will take a leading role in driving the UK growth agenda.”
Mr Street has been widely recognised for his leadership at John Lewis throughout the recession, which the retailer survived in fighting fit health and with plans for expansion nationwide.
But the group is not immune to consumer retrenchment, and its latest figures showed a drop in sales as the high street appears to be entering another gloomy period.
Mr Street’s links in the city include his role as a trustee of Performances Birmingham, responsible for running the city’s Symphony and Town Halls.