Our comment: SWM welcomes West Midlands Combined Authority, but warns that progress is ‘too fast and too fragile’

This month has seen the big splash of New Street Station, but the reality is it would never had got built without the previous period of devolution when we had a regional Minster. They provided the final political push to unlock barriers in Whitehall and after 20 years of talking to get the partners over the finish line to get the project agreed.

Will the proposed West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and the current negotiations with Treasury before the November Budget provide us with the clout and powers to be able to deliver the next ‘New Street’?

We believe that political leaders in the Midlands need to guard against the dangers of short-termism in their rush to realise a new West Midlands Combined Authority.

The possibility of a combined authority is a huge opportunity for all of us; we need inclusive, open debate to build trust and confidence. We need to think big and take the long view. Right now, it all feels a bit too fast and too fragile,” says Simon Slater, CEX at SWM.

Simon’s comments come in advance of our Annual Conference in October, where Simon will share our latest research findings on key indicators of sustainable development. The figures will show that while economic productivity continues to increase and carbon emissions are steadily being reduced, there is growing inequality in health and prosperity across the region.

The promise of big budgets from Westminster may sound appealing but it is the long term success of our region that we need to focus on over the next 10 years. We need a much better understanding of how the combined authority plans to ensure that economic success will benefit our different urban communities and the wider region, with its patchwork of towns, and rural communities. We need to build on the good work already being done, and come up with new ideas too.”

By way of example, Simon cites the low carbon sector, which is thriving in the West Midlands through improved manufacturing processes or specialist products, and now employs more than 100,000 people here. “With the right leadership and support networks in place, we have the expertise to facilitate real productivity gains through our expertise in low carbon construction, transport, and energy supported by our manufacturing strengths.”

Our Annual Conference, which takes place on October 19th at Aston University, Birmingham, will bring together business and community leaders to debate these and other issues with a view to providing constructive input to the West Midlands Combined Authority later this year. They will be joined by the international environmentalist Jonathon Porritt who will bring his experience on how to build on this local opportunity to build a better future.

Background – previous SWM comment on devolution and the WMCA

‘Elected Scapegoats and Stage Names’ – June 2015

‘Our role and the Combined Authority’ – May 2015

‘Devolution – can we hurry up?’ – March 2015

Mind the gap – What will George call his Midlands deal?’ – January 2015

‘Devolution for the West Midlands – 3 tests for sustainability?’ – September 2014