West Midlands Combined Authority has produced a blueprint setting out what they say is needed for levelling up to be achieved in the region.
As the cost of living deepens with the National Grid warning of black outs and mortgagte rages rising - wth a two-year fixed rate passing 6% for the first time since 2008 - many people across the region are in need of help to even inequalities in health, education and economics.
Forty per cent of Birmningham children live in relative poverty, according to research from PWC for Birmingham City Council, and 90% of the city’s wards are more deprived than the national average.
To add to the worrying picture, West Midlands Combined Authority revealed that the region’s economy contracted by 11% since the pandemic. The blueprint aimed at accellerating the investment to achieve levelling up has outlined four key areas where the politicians believe this can be achieved.
At the top of the list on the document - which was drawn up during the Conservative Party Conference held in Birmingham last week - is a call for more flexible funding to build affordable, zero carbon homes - with WMCA committed to a net zero target by 2041, maybe this is not surprising.
This requirement has been put together with a call to unlock stalled financial outlay through new Investment Zones - WMCA recently identified three areas of the region that could be suitable for Investment Zones, which have come under fire with the Town and Country Planning Association telling the i they will create ‘slums of the future’.
The ‘Levelling Up Growth Prospectus’ also calls for new ways to get more people to use public transport, improving the railways and enabling more local control of energy supply.
The blueprint was drawn up by a panel including former Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi, who is now the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
Other panel members were Laura Shoaf, WMCA chief executive, Cllr Ian Courts WMCA portfolio lead for Environment, Energy & HS2 and leader of Solihull Council, Nadhim Zahawi, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands and chair of the WMCA and Raaj Shamji – senior development manager, Birmingham City University.
Here are the key priorities outlined in the prospectus:
- More flexible funding to build affordable, zero carbon homes and unlock stalled investment through new Investment Zones.
- New ways to encourage people onto public transport through mobility credit schemes, new e-mobility powers, and a dynamic role in Great British Railways
- Powers to help key growth sectors for the region flourish and drive innovation in low carbon businesses such as electric car manufacturing; battery production; low carbon, modular homes; and utilities such as wind and solar power.
- Greater control and influence over investment into the region’s energy system so it is more resilient to price hike shocks and able to speed up the decarbonisation of infrastructure and industry.
West Midlands Combined Authority said the prospectus “aims to fire up the regional economy by driving forward a new, green industrial revolution while attracting major private sector investment.”
It stresses that the WMCA and local authorities, working together with other partners, have already shown how effective the region is in shaping the drivers of economic growth.
The WMCA said: “Over the last few years the region has developed an award-winning public transport system delivered thousands of new homes and jobs on derelict industrial land, launched pioneering net zero retrofit schemes for old and cold homes and turned around a failing skills system.
“The Prospectus serves as long term vision for the West Midlands going beyond the current discussions with Government on a new Trailblazing Devolution Deal for the region.”
The blueprint will sit alongside and support the WMCA’s recently launched Plan for Growth.
What have local politicians said about the levelling up plan in their own words?
Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands and WMCA Chair, said: “Levelling Up remains mission critical for our region and indeed the whole country. As we seek to supercharge our economic recovery, we must embrace the coming green industrial revolution and draw in private sector investment in order to bounce back.
“We have already made great strides here in the West Midlands - developing our public transport system, upskilling local residents, building thousands of new homes and unlocking hundreds of acres of derelict industrial land for development. We continue to rise to our #WM2041 net zero commitment – including via our pioneering retrofit schemes.
“But to build on this progress, we need the Government to give us the tools to go further and faster. This Prospectus sets out what we need to tackle the challenges we face in the weeks, months and years ahead. As the Prime Minister said, ‘When the West Midlands succeeds, the country succeeds’ so I urge the Government to back us all the way.”
Cllr Cllr Brigid Jones, WMCA portfolio lead for levelling up and deputy leader of Birmingham City Council, added: “We are facing a cost-of-living crisis, driven by high inflation and soaring energy prices and the direct and indirect consequences of this crisis for the region’s residents and businesses could be profound.
“But this Prospectus isn’t just about tackling the challenges of today - it’s also about our shared hopes for the future. We want the West Midlands to be the home of a new, green industrial revolution. This document calls upon government to match our ambitions with their support, with proposals around local area energy systems to help reduce energy bills and support for innovation in areas such as battery technology.
“The Government must lay solid foundations for real recovery with sustainable and fair funding for local government. Through “double devolution” we can unlock a whole system approach to level up the nation. This Prospectus is a blueprint for how to do that.”
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