Major report sets out ‘need for urgency and ambition’ to drive business growth
22nd March 2024
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The final report from Business Commission West Midlands (BCWM) launched this morning with a mayoral debate at Millennium Point in Birmingham, where West Midlands mayoral candidates Andy Street and Richard Parker went head-to-head.

The event provided the Conservative and Labour candidates with the opportunity to discuss key themes from the report, which includes more than 90 recommendations from business leaders and stakeholders.

The BCWM report contains three “golden threads” which are seen as barriers or opportunities to drive growth.

It describes the public funded business ecosystem as “too fragmented, complex and ambiguous for businesses to effectively navigate”, with commissioners calling for “greater coordination between agencies and authorities at regional level and enhanced devolution offers a real opportunity to shift the dial, create longer term, simpler structures and support aligned to local business needs.”

According to the report, businesses “need to see a sense of urgency and ambition. The issues outlined are already hampering growth and risking the UK falling behind in our international competitiveness or missing opportunities to lead the field in emerging industries.”

The report adds: “We need to create the conditions for businesses to upscale and grow at every stage of their journeys – whether that is start-ups, scale ups or existing large and multinational players.”

Mark Taylor, chair of BCWM and outgoing regional managing partner at business advisory firm RSM, said: “Whilst we recognise the importance of attracting new businesses to the region, we also need to have the right structures in place across areas such as skills, employment land and technology in order to help our existing businesses expand and grow.

“This is just the start of the conversation – we understand that in takes time to implement meaningful change and we will look to share our findings with key local, regional and national stakeholders and review progress on this journey one year from now.”

BCWM comprises a panel of 11 private-sector commissioners from a range of industries, supported by an advisory panel of seven academic experts.

The final report follows an extensive engagement and research programme in which 432 businesses contributed evidence to the Commission, alongside eight public sector and 10 membership organisations or cluster groups.

The commission explored business perspectives based on five levers for growth - International Trade, AI & Digitisation, Net Zero, Innovation and FDI & Inward Investment – along with four “cross-cutting enablers” - Cash & Finance, The Built Environment, People, Process & Skills and The Business Ecosystem.

Recommendations from the report include:

  • On Net Zero: Many SMEs lack the financial resources or specialist knowledge to implement net zero policies. The report calls on local and regional authorities to offer grant funded programmes to help with this transition and allow businesses to explore opportunities to diversify into new products and services.
  • On Innovation: Business Investment in the UK as a share of GDP has stagnated since 2016 and the report urges Government to make it easier for businesses to commercialise ideas and scale up their business. From a regional perspective, the report calls for the WMCA to work with the British Business Bank to set localised investment targets for SMEs that can access funding from the West Midlands Co-Investment Fund and other relevant initiatives.
  • On The Built Environment: The shortage of employment land continues to hinder the growth prospects of businesses operating in the manufacturing sector in particular. The urges the WMCA to work with all Metropolitan Authorities to create spatial plans that will be able to deliver employment land sites and infrastructure.
  • On AI & Digitisation: Given the rapidly evolving nature of AI, the report asks the WMCA to act as a conduit between Universities, Colleges and the Private Sector to ensure course content on AI remains up to date and relevant.
  • People, Process & Skills – Businesses of all sizes are facing recruitment challenges and SMEs tend to struggle to interact with education institutions in order to access talent. The report recommends regional actors implement the recommendations of the West Midlands Local Skills Improvement Plan, gather improved and live data from businesses on skills needs and also ensure there is a coherent link between regional industrial policy and future work planning.

Henrietta Brealey (pictured), chief executive of Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce and BCWM convenor, said: “The Commissioners have put forward recommendations which are grounded in pragmatism and present opportunities to reverse stagnant growth levels and build towards a more prosperous future.

“It has been created for, with and by the region’s business community. We would like to thank the Commissioners for their valuable insight in ensuring our recommendations were framed around real-world business needs and our Advisory Panel for ensuring that we adopted a robust methodology at every stage of the process.

“Finally, we would like to thank the businesses who provided evidence and whose engagement, insight and ambition sits at the heart of the Commission.”  

BCWM is supported by sponsors Aston University, Birmingham City University, University of Birmingham, University College Birmingham and Douglas Wright T/A McDonald’s.

Read the BCWM final report in full.

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