Firing up the Midlands Engine

Business Secretary Sajid Javid welcomes plans to make the heart of England greater than the sum of its parts.

The Midlands is the heart of England.

And I don’t just mean geographically.

For centuries the region has been pumping the very lifeblood of the country.

The Midlands is the home of Shakespeare, Lawrence and Larkin.

Of Newton, Nightingale and Darwin.

It’s the birthplace of Rolls-Royce, Raleigh and Wedgwood.

The steam engine emerged from the Midlands to drive an industrial revolution that changed the world forever.

The power stations of the Trent Valley give the nation heat and light.

The Great Reform Act, which laid the foundations of our democracy, was born right here in Birmingham.

The Midlands even gave us Walkers Crisps, Stilton cheese and, of course, that most English of dishes – the balti!

From the Shropshire Hills to the Lincolnshire Fens, the Midlands is the home of the people, products, places and idea that make England English.

That put the Great in Great Britain.

It boasts a record of achievement that would be the envy of many nations, never mind regions.

But for too long the Midlands has been less than the sum of its parts.

Unlike many other areas of the UK it has always lacked sense of place.

Northerners think it’s in the South.

Southerners think it’s in the North.

And Midlanders themselves aren’t really sure either way.

On the national stage ‘Midlands’ is too often used as a synonym for the Birmingham conurbation…

…disenfranchising people as far apart as Bromsgrove and Boston.

And local pride has long trumped any sense of regional identity.

Sometimes it seems the only thing Derby and Nottingham can agree on is that Brian Clough was a football genius!

And then they start arguing over which city he liked most…

This lack of cohesion and identity inevitably leads to underperformance and neglect.

Between 1997 and 2010, manufacturing output in the Midlands fell from just over £15 billion to just under £12 billion.

That was the highest percentage fall of any UK region.

Productivity here is around 10 per cent lower than the national average.

And in 2013, there were around 25,000 job vacancies in the Midlands that were hard to fill due to a lack of suitably skilled local applicants.

Together, these figures paint a picture of a region that is not fulfilling its true, incredible, potential.

As a proud Midlands MP, I’m not prepared to stand by and let that continue.

Which is why the government fully supports the Midlands Engine.

It’s not a cheap knock-off of the Northern Powerhouse.

It’s not an empty piece of political rhetoric.

It’s a real programme to deliver the jobs, growth and productivity that the people of this region deserve.

If the Midlands matches the predicted growth rate for the UK over the next 15 years, it could create 300,000 jobs and boost the national economy by £34 billion.

That’s too big a prize to ignore.

So let me say how delighted I am to see the region’s 11 local enterprise partnerships coming together to make this vision a reality.

The prospectus being launched today is ambitious, yes.

The best ideas always are.

But with the right drive and the right support there is nothing in this plan that cannot be achieved.

It’s very much locally led, with the people and businesses of the Midlands setting direction and priorities…

…rather than being dictated to from London.

But the government is right behind you, as you saw in both the Chancellor’s summer Budget and last week’s Autumn Statement.

We’re providing a £5 million trade and investment package that will help you promote the Midlands Engine overseas…

…reaching new markets and boosting exports.

Another £5 million has already been made available to develop a long-term transport strategy for the region…

… including the creation of a new Midlands Connect Strategic Board.

There’ll be a new enterprise zone in Stoke, and existing zones in Birmingham and Derby will be extended.

The D2N2 LEP will receive more than £1 million to make sure Derby and Nottingham get the full benefit of the proposed HS2 station at Toton.

And later this morning I’ll have the honour of opening part of the Energy Research Accelerator here at the University of Birmingham.

Backed with £60 million of government funding, it will put the Midlands at the heart of international energy research and development.

But there’s more.

Because the Midlands Engine isn’t just about money.

It’s about attitudes, about a concept.

About the idea that a region working together is stronger than a handful of counties and cities working in competition.

Imagine what we can achieve if local authorities pool their ideas, resources and expertise and work together for the benefit of the whole region.

Imagine what we can do if we harness the power of 25 top universities.

If we bring together businesses of all sizes to develop new supply chains and exploit new markets.

Well, we don’t have to imagine it any more.

Last month we witnessed the signing of the Devolution Deal for the West Midlands Combined Authority.

It’s an historic agreement that will bring disparate councils together and give power back to the people of the West Midlands.

I look forward to seeing other deals progressing within the Midlands in the near future.

And today I can announce that, early next year, I will be leading the first ever Midlands Engine overseas trade mission.

Earlier this year I saw for myself how the Northern Powerhouse trade mission to South East Asia helped to drive trade and inward investment.

In the weeks ahead my department will be working with Midlands businesses and LEPs to make this ground-breaking trip just as successful.

So the government is standing right behind you.

And not just with warm words.

This really matters to us because we are Midlands people too.

At BIS, literally half of our Commons ministers are Midlands MPs.

There’s myself from Bromsgrove…

…Broxtowe’s Anna Soubry…

…and Grantham’s Nick Boles.

We’re joined today by my colleague from Communities and Local Government, Marcus Jones, the MP for Nuneaton.

The whole region is represented.

And that’s very important because I can’t stress enough that the Midlands Engine is not just about Birmingham.

I love Birmingham, it’s a great city.

Great people, great shopping.

It’s got a wonderful new station, and the best curry you’ll find anywhere in Britain…

Apart from my mum’s kitchen!

But I know just as well as you that England’s second city is not the beginning and end of the Midlands.

Nor is this only about one half of the region.

Let me be very clear, the East Midlands is not some junior partner in this.

Nottingham, Northampton, Leicester, Lincoln and Derby are just as much a part of the Midlands Engine as Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Coventry.

The plans set out in this prospectus will only come to fruition if the whole region works together.

East and West.

North and South.

It’s a big ask, but the rewards are bigger still.

Now I’ve no doubt that the usual cynics will look at the Midlands Engine and sneer.

Because they always have done.

They sneered when Darby built his iron bridge.

Said he should stick to stone and wood instead.

They laughed when Whittle said that jet engines could power aircraft.

Said it could never work.

And they rolled their eyes when a Lincolnshire grocer’s daughter said she could bring as much to Parliament as any Home Counties gentleman.

Yet all 3 came from the Midlands, took on the world and changed it forever.

This region has done it before.

And we can do it again.

So let’s bring together local and national government.

Let’s bring together businesses large and small.

And let’s bring together the people who are the future of the Midlands.

The thinkers and the doers, the builders and the makers.

It’s time to make this region all it can be.

It’s time to fire up the Midlands Engine.