Across the West Midlands, the human impact of the coronavirus has been devastating. It has left people mourning relatives, friends and neighbours, while separating us from our loved ones. None of us ever imagined we would have to experience something like this in our lifetime.
But as well as the public health crisis, the spread of Coronavirus has also caused an economic crisis. And as we appear to be through the peak of the virus and the number of cases across the West Midlands dwindle, it is time to look at how we save our economy.
The Office for Budget Responsibility has predicted a 35% hit to national GDP, with the possibility that the effect on economic growth could be felt for many years. In the West Midlands, 79% of businesses in the area have seen a drop in their income and thousands of workers have been furloughed.
When coronavirus hit, the West Midlands was in robust economic health. The region had record employment levels, good inward investment, and a strong property market – the three fundamentals of a good economy. The forecasts were that we were on for another strong year. But now, because of our economic mix including reliance on manufacturing and business tourism, Coronavirus has left us vulnerable.
To combat this the West Midlands is working together to create a plan which will be specific to our needs. Recovery needs to be informed by a detailed local knowledge, and there is no ‘one size fits all’ model that can be rolled out from Whitehall.
The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), Local Enterprise Partnerships, and our seven local authorities are drawing up plans that will set out a road map to recovery. What these plans will highlight is how the West Midlands will require targeted efforts to help reboot our most important sectors and support local people as the economy recovers.
An Automotive Response Programme, for example, would allow manufacturing and retail to resume in a safe way, while pressing ahead with plans for a Gigafactory to help make the region a global leader in autonomous and electric vehicle technology.
Our region’s small and medium businesses that have been the lifeblood of our economy through its rise in recent years must be supported through the Government’s £1.3billion fund for new firms, and in turn backed by local business accelerators offering advice and training. A new Clean Growth Innovation Challenge would identify ideas to stimulate the green economy.
Big capital projects – such as HS2 – will help stimulate growth, and we are also looking at if we can accelerate any other planned infrastructure investment to help act as a shot in the arm to the economy. I have urged the Prime Minister to bring forward the £4.2billion devolved transport funding, which was originally planned for the 2022/23 financial year.
Other areas that we are looking at include our ground-breaking Brownfield First policy which can be fast-tracked to build 200,000 new homes in the next 10 years on more former industrial sites, while our universities will also have a critical role to play as they collaborate with business to boost productivity through research and development.
Finally we will need to continue to build international reputation and confidence, utilising landmark events such as Coventry City of Culture next year and the Commonwealth Games in 2022 to showcase our brilliant region to the world. Coronavirus was an economic challenge we did not expect, but by using local leadership backed by Government support, we can bounce back.