John Edwards, the chief executive of regional development agency Advantage West Midlands, has announced his resignation from the #160,000-a-year post after seven years in charge.

Mr Edwards, aged 55, is to take early retirement and will leave at the end of March next year.

Mr Edwards said he had few regrets about AWM's achievements under his leadership, although the organisation has often been criticised for being too bureaucratic and slow to react by many in the business sector and by some local authorities.

Mr Edwards said expectations about what AWM could achieve with its #300 million budget and how quickly it could turn around difficult regeneration projects were often unrealistic.

"The expectations of us are high and so they bloody well should be. But sometimes it's difficult to meet them.

"Some of the things we have done have taken longer than I would have wanted, but it is difficult when you have very complex schemes that you are trying to put in place with a whole range of organisations all of whom have their own agendas."

He named the redevelopment of Fort Dunlop, AWM's response to the Rover crisis and the agency's market towns policy, which was regarded as an exemplar throughout the country, as his highlights.

He stressed the need to convince the whole of the West Midlands of the importance of Birmingham as an economic driver for the region. Mr Edwards added: "Sometimes in the rural parts of the region they think we are Birmingham-centric and in Birmingham they say we do not take enough notice of Birmingham as the capital of the region and its economic powerhouse. Well, if we are displeasing everyone equally perhaps we are getting the balance right.

"We have been able to get people to acknowledge, sometimes grudgingly, but less as the years go on, Birmingham's pivotal position as the capital of the region."

He said his decision to leave early was taken from a "professional and personal" point of view.

He added: "I am not going to go and be a chief executive anywhere else. If I had wanted to carry on being a chief executive I would have stayed where I am. I have thoroughly enjoyed the job. It's been a rollercoaster but it's always been a job that I get up in the morning and want to do.

"It is a high pressure job, long hours and long weeks and I want to step out and take a break for a few months."

Mr Edwards took over as acting chief executive in July 2000 after AWM's first boss, Tony Cassidy, left abruptly. Mr Cassidy, it was claimed, had lost the confidence of business interests in the region.

Four months later, Mr Edwards was appointed to the job. During his period in charge AWM has consistently met Government targets for job creation and saving jobs. The most recent inspection by the National Audit Office described AWM as "performing strongly", although there was a warning that the agency must improve its public image. It was seen as too "Birmingham-centric", the NAO warned.

Mr Edwards said many of the criticisms levelled against AWM were not justified, although he accepted the skills crisis continued to hold back the West Midlands.

"We still have too many people in the region who don't have the skills needed for a modern economy. We are improving but we need to improve far more quickly. Three or four years ago firms in the region were struggling to attract graduates, but it is less of a problem now.

"There are lots of businesses I can think of who will say we wouldn't be where we are now if it hadn't been for the support from AWM.

"We are having some of our best years for investment and seen really high quality companies come and base themselves in the region. We have been instrumental in attracting these businesses."

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