The Black Country now has more graduates than ever before with more pupils getting high GCSE grades according to a new report.

The ‘State of the Sub Region’ report, from Black Country Consortium, was presented at a Sub-Regional summit bringing together business heads, senior politicians and civic leaders to look at the challenges and opportunities that the region faces.

The ‘Black Country, Bright Future’ Symposium, was held at the Copthorne Hotel in Merry Hill and heard from speakers including Minister for the West Midlands Ian Austin MP, Birmingham International Airport chief executive Paul Kehoe, and consortium chief executive Sarah Middleton.

Ms Middleton said: “It has never been more important for the Black Country to hold a summit like this. Recession means we still face great challenges: over the past year our output gap has grown, incomes have dropped and the number of jobs has fallen. 

“We have a major productivity challenge on our hands amounting to some £5.4 billion and let’s face it, our trade deficit is someone else’s trade surplus and that someone is probably much further afield than the West Midlands.  It is crucial that the public and private sectors join forces now to stop this situation and help create the future the Black Country deserves.

“But there are undeniable signs for long-term optimism: the number of growing businesses in the region is increasing and we have seen an increase in visitors.  There are some significant physical regeneration schemes underway or about to start, for example the Lift Scheme in Brierley Hill, Manor Hospital in Walsall, All Saints office development in Sandwell, Walsall College, York Park in Dudley and the new Tesco investment for Walsall.  All these will undeniably help our centres to keep their residents and attract new ones.

“Most important of all are the dramatic improvements in our educational achievements: the number of graduates living in the region and the percentage of pupils leaving Black Country schools with good GCSE results are rising, while the number of people without any qualifications is falling quickly.”

Ian Austin warned the sub region that boosting skills must be a top priority if it is to build a stronger economy.  He said: “Skills are at the very top of our agenda here in the West Midlandsas a whole and Black Country in particular.  A skilled workforce is the essential foundation for the kind of dynamic, knowledge-led economy we need if the region is to compete in the upturn. It is now more important than ever to concentrate on up-skilling our workforce and training apprentices so we can prepare for the turnaround.”