Yesterday was the opening of Birmingham Made Me Expo and Design Festival. The two key note speakers were John Cridland Director General from the CBI and Albert Bore, Leader of Birmingham City Council.
John Cridland focussed on the importance of regenerating local areas. He mentioned Birmingham’s impressive progress and gave enthusiastic support for the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP and its work with Michael Heseltine on the Single Local Growth budget; which he supported strongly. He felt that Heseltine had over bid in terms of the level of resources but felt it was vitally important that significant resources were delegated down to the LEPs and GBSLEP would have a good chance of winning significant resources.
He focussed on the need for there to be continued infrastructure investment in the UK and cities and specifically mentioned HS2, stressing its importance for the UK. London had received funding for Crossrail and now through HS2 it was time for investment to be elsewhere. He stressed the importance that HS2 linked through to the HS1 so that in Birmingham you could catch trains to Paris and Brussels etc. ie It must be seen to be part of a European network and if that wasn’t achieved that would be a failure. He also stressed the investment in the metro system as important and then went onto talk about the need to focus on streamlining the planning system.
Albert Bore in his speech took up the issue of planning and infrastructure and compared how long it took Birmingham to get a small extension to the current Metro; it will be 17 years, with that in Lyon where they moved from the idea to having it up and running in four years. This needs tackling.
Albert Bore also flagged up the forthcoming launch of Birmingham’s International Strategy by drawing on international comparisons such as the one with Lyon but also talking about joint work with the Universities; quoting one such possible area of Life Sciences where Frankfurt, Birmingham’s partner city, has real R and D strength and the University of Birmingham is exploring with the Goethe University in Frankfurt possibilities for collaboration. It was refreshing to see an intelligent approach to the benefits of working internationally and I await the launch of the International Strategy with real interest.
Other interesting speakers included Professor John Bryson from the University of Birmingham speaking on the economic value of design to companies. He stressed that companies that don’t address design and which don’t innovate will not last long. He stressed one strength of Birmingham is the wealth of retro designs that are owned by Birmingham companies and he urged them and young companies to dig into these archives to refind and reuse these designs. These are a resource that newly emerging economies such as the BRICS will not have. He also stressed the point that companies need to recognise that design needs to be localised to the global region, or even country concerned and that if Birmingham and West Midlands companies wanted to access the rapidly growing markets in the BRIC countries they needed local design insight. He said Business Birmingham should be seeking to attract a global design business to the City.
Paul Thandi from the NEC Group, spoke on behalf of Business Birmingham and talked about its success in attracting FDI..second only to London recently and spoke about the desire to attract a FTSE100 headquarters to the city. He indicated that when Business Birmingham began about 3 years ago 80% of Investment inquiries were from the UK and 20% from abroad. This has now completely reversed with 80% coming from overseas; crucially the North American market followed by Germany are the dominant locations. He stressed the real importance of HS2 for the city and the region but also made a passionate plea for investment in superfast broadband as well.
Paul Forrest for the West Midlands Economic Forum took a statistical approach outlining how GVA statistics need to be treated with care because they over estimate the impact of London and if you correct the West Midlands figures for this distortion it shows it is not the basket case some people think.
There was a round table discussion with presentations from a number of West Midlands LEPs; this really showed both the willingness to work together but also the absolute necessity of such work. Fascinating detail. A key point made by Stewart Towe Chair of the Black Country LEP was that we need to sell Birmingham as the hub and the Black Country and other LEPs as the spokes. Birmingham is the global identifier and the Black Country full understand and support the need to promote Birmingham and they work closely with Marketing Birmingham contributing to this positioning. It is clear, listening to the talk from Peter Rigby Director of the Coventry and Warwickshire LEP that they have a real lead on innovation with two entrepreneurial Universities, and a number of private sector research companies including MIRA and Ricardo. Paul Heaven from the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP outlined the recently launched Strategy for Growth and spoke of the significant progress made by the LEP since being formed.
Andrew Carter Deputy Chief Executive from the Centre for Cities think tank said that Birmingham needed to tackle its skills issue, its intra urban transportation connectivity and to keep investing in the city centre as this is where private sector jobs growth has been.
Perhaps a highlight for me was the presentation by Marek Reichman Design Director of Aston Martin who spoke eloquently on the companies approach to design, of being cool but also functional. He spoke of how in a small village in Warwickshire, Gaydon, the cars are now designed and built; 1400 people in total are working there. He also talked about the companies symbiotic relationship with James Bond. It is great to hear someone so deeply involved in design but also someone who can express it coherently.
A great start to Birmingham Made Me.