Our Comment: Peter Braithwaite’s ‘Reflections of a Chair’ 2012-2017

Looking back over my five years as Chair of SWM it has been a very interesting, at times challenging, but always an incredibly worthwhile experience. The West Midlands has seen difficult economic conditions, particularly for SME’s – SWM included. The collapse of Carillion (once celebrated for their own work on sustainability) will continue to challenge many organisations survival, never mind sustainability aspirations. I am pleased to leave SWM in a sound financial position with a great team in place and working with a huge range of stakeholders, continuing to lead on driving the sustainability of the region.

During my time as Chair, Simon stepped down as Chief Executive after seven years of sterling work in bringing SWM out of the public sector and successfully building a private sector organisation. Anna came in as the new Chief Executive two years ago and brought with her a great set of skills that has refocused SWM and built upon our reputation for independence and high-quality sustainability expertise. We have seen many changes in the region from the growth of the LEPs, the forming of HS2 teams and Special Enterprise Zones to the birth of the Combined Authority and of course, the appointment of our first elected Mayor; in all of which SWM has played a part.

In policy, despite economic pressures, sustainability has generally stayed high on the regional agenda, particularly with the low carbon economy and air quality pressures in Birmingham. The region is establishing itself as a national centre for clean energy and low-carbon technologies, which should help the drive to reduce unemployment, increase training and apprenticeships and improve the well-being of our people. The recently launched Government strategies for Clean Growth, Industry and the 25 Year Environment Plan* can all help to drive ‘The Midland Engine’ but we are in competition, and during my time with SWM I have experienced the Midlands reticence for blowing our own trumpet and celebrating our achievements, whilst some other regions are very adept at this! Hopefully, Andy Street as our Mayor, can ensure that the region is not left behind or overtaken by our northern colleagues as I firmly believe that we have the ‘Second City’ within our region. The 2022 Commonwealth Games are an opportunity to boost our profile and local economy, and I trust that sustainability will be at the centre of the Games development.

So, what now for me? I will continue to take a keen interest in the sustainability progress within the West Midlands, and of course SWM. I have recently started the EU funded Alternative Raw Materials with Low Impact (ARLI) research project at The University of Birmingham. This is a collaborative R&D programme supporting SME’s in developing innovative products and processes from various wastes including, of course, plastic bags! The aim is to provide high quality research advice and facilities to SMEs to allow them to realise their goals and grow their offerings.

It only remains for me to wish my successor, Tim Haywood, as enjoyable a time as I have had working with an exceptional team in a challenging arena but with great results!

*Look out for our review of the 25 Year Environment Plan soon