The recent publicity around the growth of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull – being the LEP with the highest GVA growth almost got me to write a post about the underlying reasons for its growth – (it is in draft but will it surface?) but I was diverted when I received an email from the Black Country LEP which shouted out that it has been the second highest growing LEP in GVA terms. It didn’t refer to its neighbours growth and nor did Greater Birmingham refer to the Black Country’s growth. I started to want to understand what was going on in the conurbation and how that compared to elsewhere. There is a dearth of information on what some might call Greater Birmingham (the ex West Midlands Country Council area – and hopefully the future Combined Authority Area). This is the core of our urban area; the core of our economy but no one oversees it; no one sings its successes.
I pointed out in a post last year how Greater Manchester had overtaken – what I will call Greater Birmingham – have the recent figures changed that? This is a graph using the latest GVA figures from the ONS.
What this shows is that Greater Birmingham and Greater Manchester are neck and neck in the battle to be the leading economy outside of London. For many years Greater Manchester outpaced and overtook Greater Birmingham but more recently Greater Birmingham has been matching step for step Greater Manchester and has almost caught up. The latest GVA growth figures (2013) show that growth figures in the core of the Midlands Powerhouse at 4.74% marginally shaded those in the core of the Northern Powerhouse at 4.61%. These figures well exceed growth in London (at 3.95%)
What these also show is the importance of economic engines outside of London. The combined powerhouses of Greater Birmingham and Greater Manchester produce almost a a third of what London does. With key investments and importantly much more local control these figures can be improved for the areas but also the nations benefit.
But what is happening within Greater Birmingham. This is surprising – well at least to me. The graph below shows the growth rate for the constituent local authority areas.
This points out the really significant growth in Birmingham followed closely by Coventry and Dudley but what is surprising is the growth in Walsall at over 7%. This places Walsall in the top three growing local authority areas in England behind Southampton and Thurrock. What is also surprising is the fall in GVA in Solihull especially given recent investments by JLR. These figures are just a snapshot and should really be seen in a longer time frame.
My main point behind this post is – a combined authority cannot come soon enough and a key task of that authority must be to understand how well we are doing as an area and as constituent parts. The LEP boundaries may have had some sense way back when (I am not sure many would agree with that) however they do not mirror our economy and the lack of a body to shout out for the whole area significantly undermines our wider economic strategy work.