Dr Nik Kotecha OBE – entrepreneur, influencer and philanthropist – has a compelling New Year’s wish for the Midlands region of the United Kingdom.
My ambition is to bring the West and East Midlands’ businesses together, with one voice.
We need to develop a combined voice for the Midlands with joint messaging that breaks down silos, shows off our strengths, offers new opportunities to engage and secures much needed funding from Government. The businesses in both regions need to work much closer together.
I am not only talking about devolution of powers. Individuals and families in Walsall, Leicester and Darlington must have the same opportunities as people living in the South East. Together we can establish the Midlands as a national hub for business, innovation, skills and ideas, which will help turn the tide and really ‘level up’ the region.
It is all about forging greater collaborations between the two regions as well as academia, the public and private sectors. I really believe in one Midlands, with one clear coherent, powerful national voice. In my opinion, the two regions working more closely together and channelling our voice through the Midlands’ Chambers and Midlands Engine will encourage Government to listen and invest in the Midlands.
This is our reason behind recently joining the Greater Birmingham Chamber, and alongside the Midlands Engine and East Midlands Chamber, we can talk about opportunities and challenges and develop joint messaging that breaks down silos and offers new opportunities to engage.
The structure is already there with the Midlands Engine and the Chambers; but I am also talking about collaborations between business people, the academic world, the public sector and NHS Trusts, across all sectors. It starts with people talking, meeting more regularly and working together.
I am immensely proud of what the Midlands is already achieving but we can do more. We need to nurture collaborations across the Midlands. I am passionate about bringing people together, and I want to meet more people from the West Midlands as part of this process.
If we can share knowledge and talk about what opportunities and challenges are out there, then we will be in a stronger position when talking with Government and securing additional funding. The real message is that I see a massive opportunity to develop a joint strategy that identifies solutions, understands challenges and removes barriers, while building on our strengths.
We want Westminster and Whitehall to hear us and they will do so if we are able to communicate with one clear coherent joint voice, underpinned by a united approach. Along with the Chambers and the Midlands Engine, organisations like Make UK and CBI Midlands play a crucial role here, as they are able to directly speak to Government and will be vital in making the Midlands’ case at the highest levels, as well as through the media.
This is echoed by the Government’s recently released Levelling Up White paper, which set out 12 bold missions with the aim of shifting government focus and resources to Britain’s forgotten communities by 2030. Among these key targets, I was very pleased to see the commitment to increase investment in Research & Development by 40% across the Midlands, North, South West, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
There was also a key commitment for increasing the number of people successfully completing high-quality skills training in every area of the UK. This is welcome news as there is an urgent need for improving skills as a key factor in levelling up and bridging a national economic divide between the South and the North. There has not been enough investment in developing STEM skills at school level, preparing young people for the world of work, as well as addressing the so-called skills gap.
In my business we have previously experienced challenges with recruiting for highly skilled technical roles. The South East has a glut of skills and quite often people are unwilling to relocate, so our approach is to grow talent within the businesses and upskill and reskill where possible.
For me it is very much about showcasing and championing the Midlands’ potential and creating an understanding with Central Government, as well as strengthening our businesses by enhancing productivity and embedding innovation as part of the continuous improvement process. Building a thriving economy, enhancing global trade, focussing on the health of our people and investing in carbon zero, are also vital ingredients for our future success.
One example was a recent Manufacturing Conference which I co-hosted with the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), the Midlands Engine and Make UK, where we brought together 50 of the East and West Midlands’ leading manufacturers to showcase and listen to the needs of the sector in the Midlands.
During the event it was highlighted that the Midlands is the UK’s manufacturing heartland, employing 4.7 million people and accounting for 22 per cent of UK exports; yet it’s clear that the region’s voice on the national stage is fragmented and disjointed.
My hope is that together the Midlands region can punch above its weight, not just nationally, but internationally, for the future prosperity of the businesses and communities based here.