The West Midlands needs inspirational leaders to instil a more positive attitude to work and lifelong learning if the region is to escape from a reputation for high unemployment and low productivity, a major report warns today.
Raising the aspirations of people at all skill levels in and out of work "from cradle to grave" is a key ambition of the new Regional Economic Strategy, drawn up by regional development agency Advantage West Midlands.
The document was being launched today by West Midlands Minister Liam Byrne at the Longbridge Innovation Centre, on the site of the former MG Rover plant. It paints a picture of a region once renowned for ingenuity and entrepreneurialism but which fails now to punch its weight economically.
The strategy's authors challenge businesses, local councils and stakeholder organisations to work together to overcome a £10 billion productivity gap - the difference per year in economic output between the West Midlands and the UK regional average.
Low rates of innovation, a poor record on skills, a largely unqualified workforce, lack of graduate retention and uninspiring lead-ership continues to hold the region back, according to the report.
Business investment in research and development is the seventh lowest out of nine English regions, while more than a quarter of the working-age population is unemployed.
The launch coincides with new research naming Birmingham as one of the most "unequal" cities in the UK.
A study of 56 towns and cities by research group Centre for Cities hit out at economic inequalities across the country with "large areas known for their shiny new buildings being the most unequal".
Almost 40 per cent of the working age population in Birmingham is unemployed compared to 21 per cent in neighbouring Solihull, according to the report.
Dermot Finch, director of Centre for Cities, said: "Our biggest cities like Birmingham, Manchester and London are polarised within their own boundaries. They need to address the deep-rooted wealth inequalities on their own patch, by moving beyond constructing shiny new buildings if they are to continue to grow."
The findings follow a report published last week by Iain Duncan Smith's Centre for Social Justice, in which the former Tory party leader warned thousands of people in Birmingham felt disenfranchised from the economic renaissance of the city centre.
AWM's economic strategy stresses for the first time the important role to be played by Birmingham in driving forward the West Midlands economy.
The report notes: "Birmingham and its surrounding area is a key driver of the West Midlands economy with a concentration of economically significant assets, such as universities, an internationally-recognised financial and business services sector and tourism attractions.
"This agglomeration of assets, including major transport interchanges, brings people not just to the city, but to the West Midlands as a whole and opens up major international markets in which the whole region can compete.
"We need to support the ongoing development of Birmingham to ensure that it remains economically competitive."
In a written introduction to the strategy document, AWM chairman Nick Paul and Councillor David Smith, chairman of the West Midlands Regional Assembly, say: "Success for the region can only be achieved if we work together in partnership. Success will mean developing a vibrant business base, spread across our towns, cities and rural areas - providing opportunity that ensures all citizens in the region have the chance to participate in economic success.
"It will mean the West Midlands continuing to enhance its national and international reputation for the quality and diversity of its people and places."