It remains to be seen whether the Birmingham-Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership can actually deliver anything much at all since its main funding opportunity rests on tapping into business rates from companies moving into the area at some future point when the economy picks up.
But there is no doubting the enthusiasm and ability of LEP members, in particular chairman Andy Street who appears instinctively to understand the way in which Birmingham can begin to reverse the drain of jobs and skilled employment that has been an unhappy feature of the past 30 years.
He is of the opinion that this city’s future prosperity will rely to a large part on promoting cultural and creative industries, the knowledge-based economy, which is certainly one area where the West Midlands can sell its expertise to the emerging economies of India and China.
This sector already employs 19,000 people in Birmingham and contributes £660 million a year to the economy. Of course, this is small fry as far as the bigger picture is concerned but the conditions are in place for rapid growth in places like Eastside and Digbeth where numerous micro-firms and would-be entrepreneurs are desperately searching for a break to establish themselves as tomorrow’s manufacturers.
The Creative City project, backed by the LEP and Birmingham City Council, represents a good first stab at kickstarting what Mr Street refers to as a “creative and cultural renaissance”, although as is often the way with such initiatives it is difficult to see where the money to make a real difference is going to come from.
The Government’s Catalyst fund offers £100 million across the country, but most bids for this have to be backed by match funding. The question has to be asked: where is this match funding going to come from?
Both Mr Street and Culture Minister Ed Vaizey went out of their way this week to stress the importance of stimulating philanthropic giving, suggesting that the UK could match the huge endowment gifts common in America if only councils were a little more sharp-elbowed in asking for money.
There is also the possibility that Birmingham City Council may impose a voluntary hotel bed tax on visitors to Birmingham, a novel notion that could in theory raise millions of pounds a year which would be invested in the cultural and creative sector.
It is not often that you hear a business leader welcoming a new tax. Jerry Blackett, the chief executive of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, isn’t exactly jumping for joy but pragmatically recognises that a £1-a-night bed tax isn’t much to pay and, as he puts it, these are difficult times and we have to be creative.
Good for Mr Blackett, although he and the council may have some work to do to convince hotel owners that they should join a new Business Improvement District predicated on levying a tax on visitors, however worthy the cause might be.
The inescapable fact remains, however, that funding to boost the economy, whether from central or local government, will be very hard to come by for the forseeable future.
It is all very well for cities like Birmingham to come up with plausible strategies for pump-priming new industries, but the ubiquitous vision documents will be nothing more than words if they are not backed by the wherewithal to deliver the skills and jobs so desperately needed to compete in a fast changing world economy.