Time to rebalance the London-centric UK economy

My speech at last night’s Centre for Cities event.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen

May I offer you a warm welcome to Birmingham – one of Europe’s youngest cities and, of course, home to the UK’s largest local authority.

You come to Birmingham at an exciting time. This young, diverse, creative city is going through a dramatic period of transformation at the moment.

In fact you could argue that we’ve entered a golden decade that will define Birmingham and the wider region for generations to come.

We’re building homes, attracting investment, creating jobs, building the infrastructure for HS2, hoping to get the nod as the new home of Channel 4 and preparing to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

I’m proud of Birmingham. I was born here, I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve seen the city change almost beyond recognition from the Birmingham of my childhood.

This city is currently buzzing with the noise of regeneration and we have many reasons for optimism.

  • The Good Cities Growth index rated us as the most improved in the UK in 2017 and we continue to attract new investment and new homes.
  • In recent years, Birmingham has seen the fastest growth in business numbers in the country.
  • With an economy worth £24.8bn, this city has a growth rate of 19.2% in the last five years and is one of the largest growing city economies in the UK.
  • Last year we were once again the most entrepreneurial city in Britain outside London as 12,108 new businesses opened their doors in 2017.
  • And Birmingham is ranked as having the highest quality of life of any English city outside the capital, by the global Mercer Quality of Living Report 2018.

Of course, I don’t have to sell Birmingham to the people in this room. You must like the city because you keep coming back!

In increasingly uncertain times, this great city and the wider region stand ready to play a pivotal role in the UK economy whatever happens with Brexit.

Through the West Midlands Combined Authority, we are working very closely with the West Midlands Mayor Andy Street to get the best possible deal for the people of this city and this region.

Our collaborative work on the Local Industrial Strategy is a prime example. As the Combined Authority’s portfolio lead for economic growth, I’m working closely with the Mayor to grow our regional economy in a way that can bring greater prosperity to all our communities.

Like cities and city regions up and down the UK, Birmingham and the West Midlands will be more important than ever if and when we leave the European Union.

But of course we must be given the tools to play that key role and we must be given a greater stake in the

I’m sure I won’t be the only person over the next four days to talk about the importance of rebalancing the UK economy.

We’ve been talking about it for years, but spending in this country remains stubbornly London-centric.

It surely cannot be right, for example, that transport investment stands at almost £1,000 per head for London, but just over £300 for Birmingham and the West Midlands.

Yes the regions miss out, but so does the UK economy as a whole.

We stand ready to play our part.

Invest is us and we’ll deliver – not just for Birmingham and the West Midlands – but for Britain.

West Midlands to become UK’s first large-scale 5G testbed

The West Midlands has been selected to become the innovative home to the UK’s first multi-city 5G test bed. The multi million pound trial of new high speed connectivity will pave the way for the future rollout of 5G across the UK, making the region the first in the UK ready to trial new 5G applications and services at scale.

The Urban Connected Communities Project, the next step in the Government’s 5G Testbed and Trials Programme, will develop a large-scale, 5G pilot across the region, with hubs in Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton.

Up to £50m is currently available for the project, subject to further development and approval of the business plan. This includes £25m from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and a further £25m match funding from regional partners. An additional £25m may be made available at a later stage.

Minister for Digital, Margot James said: “5G has the potential to dramatically transform the way we go about our daily lives, and we want the citizens of the UK to be amongst the first to experience all the opportunities and benefits this new technology will bring.

“The West Midlands Testbed, which is the first of its kind anywhere in the world, will be instrumental in helping us realise this ambition.”

Following its selection through open competition, the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) will now work with the 5G Testbeds and Trials Team at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and industry partners on preparing the formal business case for approval, with the first of a series of projects expected to go live early next year.

The West Midlands Combined Authority’s (WMCA) bid has an initial focus on the health, construction and automotive sectors, with its overarching ambition to help drive economic growth and benefit people’s lives through participation in new digital technologies and digitally transformed public services.

Subject to formal approval, initial plans include:

  • Hospital outpatient appointments and emergency consultations carried out remotely by video link not subject to droppage or latency barriers. As well as being more convenient for patients, this means they can play back their appointment at a later date or share it securely with a family member or carer to help inform their care.
  • “Connected Ambulances” – Paramedic crews at an incident could access specialist advice while they are at the scene, eg video conferencing with consultants or other clinical specialists. Live streaming of patient data from ambulance en route to hospital would help inform the immediate care patients receive on arrival.
  • Live streaming of CCTV footage from public transport buses, enabling immediate action to be taken against anti-social behaviour. “Intelligent cameras” using artificial intelligence (AI) to identify incidents could provide the opportunity for far greater coverage than is possible at present.
  • Autonomous vehicles will transform the way we travel, preventing major accidents, improving traffic flow and reducing energy consumption. The WMCA will partner with Jaguar Land Rover to facilitate real world testing of driverless cars.

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, said:“This announcement is game-changing for the West Midlands economy. This will be the backbone of our future economy and society.

“We have been working to put the foundations in place to grow the industries which will create the jobs of the future, particularly around driverless vehicles and life sciences where we have a genuine advantage. To deliver the future of these industries we need the power of 5g.

“The potential of this technology is endless  – and we will enjoy the benefits first.

“From monitoring the health of babies and the elderly, to the way out people are linked to the economy of the future, the way companies do business, the way we deliver public services, the experience of travellers on public transport and the way we deliver City of Culture and the Commonwealth Games – everything can be made better thanks to the power of this technology.”

Cllr Ian Ward, leader of Birmingham City Council and WMCA portfolio lead for economy and jobs, said: “We want to lead the way in 5G and the potential for this technology in the West Midlands is unlimited, which is why we’re delighted with today’s news.

“The possibilities for businesses, individuals, investors and innovators are huge. Not only that, but imagine the difference having a fully operational 5G network in the West Midlands will have as we host the Commonwealth Games.

“The way people are consuming news and digital content is changing by the day and 5G gives Birmingham the opportunity to be the first city to host a major event using this technology.”

DCMS funding for the project will come from the £200 million government has assigned  to develop 5G technologies as part of more than £1bn of investment in next-generation digital infrastructure, including via the £31bn National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF).

The 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme forms part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, aimed at continually driving the UK’s connectivity, telecommunications and digital sectors, and investing in the skills, industries and infrastructure of the future.

New transport system will be sprinting for success at Commonwealth Games

Sprint bus CGI

Top athletes are not the only ones aiming to be in peak condition for the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham – the region’s transport system is also looking to be fast out the blocks.

Details were unveiled today (Thursday August 23) of a new type of transport called Sprint which will use tram-style vehicles to provide fast, reliable journeys along some of the region’s busiest roads.

Sprint, which runs on road-going wheels rather than tracks, will have seven routes by 2026 but three of those are now being accelerated so they are in place for the Games.

Birchfield Harriers Kaie Chambers-Brown (Great Britain U20) and Cassie-Anne Pemberton (Great Britain U18) launch the Sprint consultation with Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street (left) and Cllr Ian Ward, leader of Birmingham City Council.Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street and Cllr Ian Ward, leader of Birmingham City Council, were joined by Great Britain sprinters Kaie Chambers-Brown (U20) and Cassie-Anne Pemberton (U18) in urging people to have their say and take part in a public consultation on the Sprint plans.

The Mayor said: “Sprint will work in tandem with the new suburban rail lines and Metro tram routes we are building, creating a transport network that can grow our economy, give people cleaner air and squeeze the maximum benefit possible from HS2.

“But Sprint can also help make the Games a success which is why we are accelerating three of the routes. I would urge people to have their say on these plans and help showcase our region to the world and shape our future transport system.”

Sprint is being developed by Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), which is part of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), in partnership with local councils including Birmingham, Sandwell, Solihull and Walsall.

The authorities have now drawn up detailed proposals for the three priority routes which are:

  • Birmingham City Centre to Birmingham Airport and Solihull (A45 serving NEC)
  • Birmingham City Centre through Sandwell to Walsall (A34 serving Games Village and Alexander Stadium)
  • Birmingham City Centre to Sutton Coldfield via Langley

Cllr Ward, who is also WMCA portfolio holder for economic growth, said: “The arrival of Sprint will undoubtedly act as a catalyst for regeneration and inclusive growth in the West Midlands, offering improved access to jobs and opportunities including those provided by HS2, Birmingham’s Big City Plan, and other major employers in the region.

“Sprint will offer an attractive, viable alternative for car drivers and, as we continue to tackle the pressing issue of air pollution, this exciting project will help to significantly reduce the number of cars on our roads, improving air quality in our region.”

Sprint will offer passengers a level of service and comfort similar to a tram with off-board ticketing, multiple-door boarding, wheelchair and pushchair access, free wifi, air conditioning and on-board audio visual announcements and travel information.

It will provide fast and dependable journey times using limited stops – around 500m apart – using its own dedicated lane through areas of high congestion. It will also get automatic priority at busy junctions.

Cllr Roger Lawrence, leader of City of Wolverhampton Council and WMCA portfolio holder for transport, said: “In many ways the Sprint vehicles look and feel like a tram especially in the way the seats are orientated and the doors operate.

“It combines the capacity of a tram system but with the flexibility, lower cost and simplicity of a bus. It is a proven concept in other European cities and we believe it can play a key role in our plans for the Commonwealth Games and the integrated transport system we are building for the future.”

Details of the plans, which would require some changes to road lanes, junctions, roadside parking and access, will also be available at five public events:

Birmingham to Sutton via Langley Route
Saturday September 1 – 9am-3pm  – The Parade (near Aldi) Sutton Coldfield B72 1PL

A34 Route
Thursday September 6 – 1pm-7pm – Scott Arms, Sandwell B42 1TQ

A45 Route
Saturday September 15 – 9am-3pm – Mell Square, Solihull B91 3AZ

A34 Route
Wednesday September 19 – 2pm-7pm – Park Street (near Wilkinson’s) Walsall Town Centre WS1 1LJ

All Three Routes and Hagley Road Phase 1 Advanced Works
Saturday September 22 – 9am-3pm – High Street Birmingham City Centre B4 7SL

The consultation runs until September 28 and people can take part by visiting www.tfwm.org.uk/sprint

Sprint bus interior cgi