Deputy head of business Graeme Brown reports on the Advantage West Midlands final annual meeting
In the past, Advantage West Midlands has been criticised for big spending on lavish annual general meetings, but the final bash thrown by the soon-to-close agency was at best muted.
After around 400 luminaries attended the regional development agency’s meeting last year at the ICC, fewer than 30 were there this week to see the curtain come down.
Chief executive Mick Laverty admitted he had approached the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills over up to 50 further redundancies in the new year, as a programme to close down by 2012 continues apace.
However, the agency will still be spending £1.3 million a day on average before its closure, and he said the body remained committed to the region.
But while some AWM schemes, following two rounds of cutbacks, continue to be developed, it appears a hiatus has arisen with nobody currently in charge of the region’s economic prosperity.
With a global marketplace recovering from recession, AWM chairman Sir Roy McNulty admitted the body was no longer there to field calls about creating employment – and he didn’t know who was there to do so currently.
He said: “There is a risk of a hiatus. How big and how long that hiatus is going to be remains to be seen but we are running down our activities and it will take time before the LEPs are fully effective, given that they only exist in shadow form.
“How quickly they can get up and running remains to be seen.”
AWM will be culled along with other regional development agencies after the coalition Government replaced them with LEPS, which will be run by local businesspoeple and authorities.
But Sir Roy said AWM would be leaving the region in a strong position after £800 million private sector investment attracted in the 2010 financial year, with 17,000 jobs safeguarded and 2,000 jobs created.
He added: “Over the past 10 years Advantage West Midlands has been a force for the better for the region’s economy.
“We have invested in development opportunities and emerging technologies and existing businesses.
“We have argued, twisted arms and pleaded on behalf of the region. I think AWM can be justifiably proud of its record.”
Despite this defiant stance, the closure of AWM – established in 1999 to improve the region’s economic prosperity – continues apace.
Mr Laverty admitted that despite the agency’s £160 million budget for next year, with about 280 members of staff, more redundancies were in the offing as part of a closure programme. In all, the body has £400 million still to spend – which works out at £1.3 million a working day.
He said: “We have got to get down to zero by March 2012 and we have got to string it out. We may need another round of voluntary redundancies in the new year – we are just asking BIS for permission to do that now.
“We are looking at perhaps 40 or 50, but we will be winding the operation down progressively until towards the end of the next calendar year, when we will end up with about 20 or 30 people.”
He described The financial year 2009 to 2010 as “the worst we have ever faced” and said “it has not got a lot better since”.
But Mr Laverty praised AWM staff for their “can-do attitude” in the face of closure and said the body had delivered £8.14 for every pound spent in the last financial year.
He said: “We believe AWM will be a very hard act to follow but we would like to wish all the best to the businesses and local authorities.
“We want the LEPs to work. We wouldn’t want to undermine them. If they are the replacement then that is what we have got to play with and we have all got to do what we can to ensure they do the best possible job.
“Not only do we wish them all the best but we will work with them to help get up and running.”