West Midlands must be ambitious in post-lockdown aims says mayor

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The West Midlands Mayor has said the region must be ambitious in its aims for a post-coronavirus recovery as he joined leaders to showcase a new economic blueprint.

Andy Street said he made no apologies for thinking big as the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and its partners prepare to do battle with Westminster in a bid to secure £3.2 billion in new funding.

The new masterplan, called ‘Kickstarting the West Midlands Economy: Our Investment Case to Government’, was published just hours before Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined the latest raft of measures yesterday aimed at easing the coronavirus lockdown and boosting the hospitality industry.

In it, business and political leaders in the West Midlands outline a whole host of projects they will be seeking funding for including a £614 million investment package to create green manufacturing jobs and £60 million for the Birmingham Life Sciences Park in Selly Oak.

Speaking to journalists at an online briefing about the new report, Mr Street said:the £3.2 billion was a “big ask” but it was also an appropriate figure to target for the region.

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“I am not going to apologise for that – it would be far worse to come on here and not be ambitious for our region,” he said.

“There has been real unity that we must be ambitious. If you put the numbers in context, the regional economy is worth around £105 billion every year and this is £3 billion, a lot of which is investment rather than revenue spend over a three-year period.

“When it’s put like that, it doesn’t sound inappropriate to me.

“Over the last three years, additional funding that has come into the WMCA area from the Government on the back of various proposals we’ve put to them has been £2.7 billion.

“So it’s not out of kilter with what’s been going on. Yes, it’s a step up but I don’t want people to think this is an unreasonable amount.”

Asked what would be the priorities for the region in terms of the ongoing projects, he said it would be a mix of those ‘shovel-ready’ and job-creating schemes along with more long-term plans.

Two major events for the West Midlands looming on the horizon are the Coventry City of Culture celebrations next year and the Birmingham Commonwealth Games in 2022.

Both feature in the combined authority’s new report, with regional leaders hoping to harness the power of them when it comes to creating local jobs.

They say that, combined with the arrival of HS2 in Solihull and Birmingham, they could unlock 33,000 jobs and growth across the region with investment of £306 million.

The blueprint also proposes a commitment to invest in transport, housing and people which, overall, it estimates will create or safeguard more than 135,000 jobs and build 35,000 new homes.

Mr Street remained grounded though, saying: “Nobody is kidding themselves the Government is going to turn around next week with a £3.2 billion cheque but the critical point is we believe there are some things which need a very swift response.

“These will both produce and safeguard jobs very quickly.

“There is a mix of shovel ready projects and some that will take a bit longer to win the argument for and then mobiliise.

“One of the great things about this region is we have stuck to the same script and that has won confidence in government and steadily won substantial investment. That is exactly how we are going to play this.”


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