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Levelling Up Through Innovation: Andy Street’s Plan for Growth 

Andy Street headshot

Andy Street

Metro Mayor West Midlands

Andy Street sets out the West Midlands Combined Authority’s Plan for Growth. 

A strong economy requires a supportive political environment. That is why the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), which I chair, has a clear and ambitious Plan for Growth.  

Before COVID-19, we were on the right path. After forging a position as the fastest-growing region outside London in the decade to 2019, we smashed through the £100 billion economic output mark. Unavoidably, COVID-19 set us back. Our industrial strengths became our weakness, given our sector mix and exposure to exports.  

However, this is a temporary setback. We have a Plan for Growth – a strategy that will place us back on our pre-COVID-19 trajectory, spreading opportunity and jobs right across the region and securing our position, once again, as the UK’s leading region for innovation. 

Partnerships Between the Public and Private Sectors 

Growth is fundamentally driven by the private sector as it seeks out new commercial opportunities, drives investment and creates wealth. Public authorities, such as the WMCA, play a supporting role, helping to create the conditions for investment and prosperity. In the West Midlands, we have plenty of recent experience with joint ventures between the private and public sectors. Look, for example, at the transformation of Brindley Place in Birmingham – from a derelict post-industrial piece of land to a bustling centre of finance and leisure. Private investment poured in as we extended a new tram line through the area.  

Of course, the nature of these partnerships will vary – and substantially – from place to place, reflecting local economic patterns. As an example, the employment and skill needs of Solihull – home to Jaguar Land Rover – are different from those in the Black Country. The Black Country has a bustling corridor of manufacturing factories, such as the family-run firm MJ Sections in Dudley and the international columns of Wolverhampton, both of which supply components to the aerospace industry. Accordingly, the types of supply-side intervention that public authorities make in each area to support these kinds of investments, vary significantly’. 

Levelling Up Book
Andy Street contributed to a recent book, published by policy institute, Curia

Economic Clusters 

Our Plan for Growth recognises these differing comparative advantages and seeks to strengthen those pre-existing economic clusters (interconnected companies and institutions in a particular specialism) where we can sustain above-trend levels of economic growth. Critically, the focus is on cluster-based growth opportunities, not on sectors.  

The eight clusters at the core of our Plan for Growth are manufacturing of electrical light vehicles and associated battery storage devices, health and med-tech, aerospace (including manufacturing alternative fuels), logistics and distribution, professional and financial services and supply chain, creative content production and gaming, manufacturing of future housing, and modern and low-carbon utilities. 

Unlike sectors, which are collections of businesses, clusters are deeper as relationships between firms are often built on years of trust and mutual respect. They knit local economies together, allowing space for the cross-pollination of ideas, and provide a region with its comparative advantage. While the way companies collaborate and work together is different – whether through supply chains, shared translational institutions, or more informal networks and industry bodies – each way is founded upon the same thing: a shared desire to grow a business and employ more people.  

Combining the power of the private and public sectors to support these clusters gives the West Midlands a credible path to returning to our pre-COVID-19 prosperity. The clusters in our Plan currently comprise only around 12–15 per cent of our region’s economy. They have enormous potential and if properly nurtured, will act as an engine for economic growth.  

Levelling up Walsall College
Andy Street launches the West Midlands Combined Authority Advanced Manufacturing & Engineering Training Plan at the Digital Engineering Skills Centre at Walsall College (Image: Walsall College)

Levelling Up in the West Midlands

We are confident that focusing on our critical clusters can help the West Midlands regain its position as the fastest-growing region outside of London – in effect, giving us an additional £3.9 billion of output above baseline forecasts by 2030. 

Moreover, away from established clusters, several emerging, cutting-edge clusters will play an increasing part in creating prosperity across our region. Our Plan for Growth has identified a number of these too, which we will support. 

Where we are leading, we hope others will follow. To truly thrive, our regional economies must all identify the clusters where they have true current and potential comparative advantages and structure their public interventions accordingly. 

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