The West Midlands economy - behind the headlines

‘West Midlands faces becoming unemployment blackspot’, screamed the headlines on Monday.

‘Booming West Midlands businesses grow faster than the rest of the country’, were the headlines on Tuesday.

‘West Midlands unemployment down in pre-Christmas boost’, declared the media on Wednesday.

Confused? I’m not surprised.

Almost every day, new information, surveys and figures are presented, often with conflicting messages.

There’s often an agenda behind the presentation of information and, yes, politicians are often guilty of this in their selection of data.

I wanted to explain how I see the situation we find ourselves in.

These issues, after all, are the very reasons I wanted to stand for Mayor.

For decades, this region underperformed economically and the social consequences have been painful.

Ladywood in Birmingham has the highest rate of unemployment in Great Britain and life expectancy in parts of this region is much lower than it could be.

This came about for many reasons, but the mainly because this region was unable to move with the changing economic times.

However, since 2010 our fortunes have begun to noticeably change. Not dramatically. But noticeably.

It was then that the new Government asked business to share in the leadership of economic development through the Local Enterprise Partnerships. It’s was a privilege to lead that organisation in Greater Birmingham & Solihull and I like to think we showed teamwork and collaboration delivers.

Over the past six years, the Greater Birmingham and Solihull area has delivered the fastest growth in private sector jobs in the UK.

The West Midlands has had the best export performance driven by our resurgent local manufacturing firms – indeed we are the only region in Britain to enjoy a trade surplus with China.

Last year, there were more businesses born in Birmingham than anywhere outside London.

And in the last year, wages grew faster in the West Midlands than anywhere in the UK.

But this must not distract from some of the deep-rooted issues in the report that stood behind the ‘unemployment blackspot’ headlines, by a think tank called the Resolution Foundation.

This excellent report quite rightly noted that much of the benefit from our economic growth was not touching many of the communities who need it the most.

This must change.

My experience from leading John Lewis for almost a decade was that everybody must feel part of the success – or else it isn’t truly success.

It’s easy to understand why people feel left behind and why people feel disengaged.

The challenges are there. For my part I have committed to eradicating youth unemployment in the West Midlands during my first term as Mayor in addition to investment in infrastructure and skills.

In truth, all of the headlines and surveys are right.

This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. The right leadership and the right Mayor are essential in making sure we don’t waste this chance.