The West Midlands has become the first region to agree a local industrial strategy with the government, laying out a blueprint for the West Midlands to lead the way in developing batteries for electric vehicles.
The West Midlands Local Industrial Strategy, which sets out a path to “increasing productivity and earning power across the country”, was developed in collaboration with more than 350 businesses, civil society and citizens and agreed with government. It claims to “mark a change in the way government is working to support the region”, and builds on previously agreed city deals, devolution deals and strategic economic plans.
Plans to task combined authorities and local enterprise partnerships with developing local industrial strategies were part of the 2017 Conservative manifesto.
Local industrial strategies from Greater Manchester and the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford Arc (Oxfordshire LEP, Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Business Board, Buckinghamshire Thames Valley LEP and South East Midlands LEP) are also expected to be agreed this year.
These strategies are led by mayoral combined authorities or LEPs to promote the coordination of local economic policy and national funding streams and establish new ways of working between national and local government, and the public and private sectors.
The West Midlands region is growing rapidly, with productivity increasing at twice the rate of the UK in 2017-18, according to the 83-page strategy document, which explains how the local economy will be further boosted by the opening of the HS2 trainline, the first phase of which runs from London to Birmingham and will start operating in 2026.
The region is also raising its status on the international stage, with Coventry to become the UK’s City of Culture in 2021, and Birmingham holding the Commonwealth Games in 2022.
However, the West Midlands also has its challenges. It has one of the lowest employment rates of any mayoral combined authority, 71%, an above average unemployment rate of 5.7% and worse than average levels of healthy life expectancy.
The strategy outlines how the region will be making its mark in the global battery technology industry, with the £80m UK Battery Industrialisation Centre due to open in Coventry, next year. It was announced this morning that the centre is to benefit from an additional £28m of government funding.
As well as battery industrialisation, other priorities in the strategy document include data-driven healthcare innovation and creative content. The country’s first Future Mobility Zone, between Birmingham, Solihull and Coventry, will host the testing of new technologies.
The strategy also outlines plans for the West Midlands to partner with local specialist manufacturers and R&D centres to help create new markets and foreign direct investment opportunities, such as those in electric and connected autonomous vehicles and battery manufacturing, and deliver the UK’s first large-scale 5G testbed, ”to enable a new approach to real time data and user management”.
The government is currently working in partnership with the West Midlands to support this priority through investments including £20m for the Future Mobility Zone between Birmingham, Solihull and Coventry; and up to £50m for 5G trials across the West Midlands.
Warren Ralls, director of The LEP Network, said that the publication of the strategy marks “a milestone” in how LEPs makes a real difference to people’s lives.
”Rooted in the national industrial strategy, these local industrial strategies go to the very heart of what LEPs are judged by: namely, the difference they make to their communities and to the lives of the people that live in them,” he said.