Our Quick Q&A with… feature has been launched to give an insight into the roles, responsibilities and opinions of Marches LEP Board members as they work on behalf of the region to drive economic growth and the creation of sustainable private-sector jobs. First to take some questions is Marches LEP Chairman, Graham Wynn OBE.
Q: Congratulations on your re-appointment as Chairman of the Marches LEP. What do you see as the most important part of your role?
The bringing together of both private and public sector partners to work effectively to create the conditions for growth. We all want homes, jobs, growing companies and growing wealth for our region, and the infrastructure to support it, but we must work together to achieve this.
We have a 15-strong board, with members representing key business sectors, our area business board representatives, further education champions and our three local authority leaders. With such strength and depth, we have an opportunity to do so much for our region if we all work towards a common goal.
The delivery of our Strategic Economic Plan is key to our success – work has already started on projects identified as being priorities via our Growth Deal with Government.
Q: The Government wants to devolve more power and resources to the regions. What’s happening here?
At the moment, we are all waiting for the Government’s Bill on devolution to go through Parliament. Devolution will not be forced on areas but will leave decisions to seek devolved powers up to local areas, who can make an approach to Government setting out their intentions.
In our area, there is an application in for a West Midlands Combined Authority (CA). This includes the local authorities of Solihull, Coventry, Birmingham, Sandwell, Wolverhampton, Walsall and Dudley, overseeing a region of four million people and an £81 billion economy. This CA may be fast-tracked by Government and I am fully engaged in the West Midlands discussions with other LEPs on options and opportunities to work jointly. The six West Midlands LEPs meet regularly to ensure the Marches is represented in the Combined Authorities debate. I also represent the West Midlands LEPs on the national LEP Network Board.
We already work with many of our neighbouring LEPs to promote economic growth across the region, for example on transport infrastructure needs and access to finance for businesses.
Q: What is the Midlands Engine?
The Midlands Engine is an emerging concept for greater economic growth. It will form the basis of regional work to encourage, and raise, the long-term growth rate. It aspires to create 300,000 extra jobs; put skills at the heart of the economic revival; deliver £5.2 billion of investment into new transport infrastructure; back science and innovation in the Midlands; and improve the quality of life through regeneration and investment.
I am working alongside David Frost (Stoke & Staffs LEP Chair) to represent the West Midlands, who is leading work to develop a prospectus for the Midlands Engine. Sajid Javid, as Secretary of State for BIS, will launch the Midlands Engine at a summit in Birmingham later this year. Both the East and West Midlands LEPs are working together to drive this agenda, and the Marches is very much a part of developing the Midlands Engine.
Q: What do businesses tell you is the key barrier they face and what are you doing to tackle the problem?
Good broadband and mobile connectivity has been identified by our business community as the top priority in enabling them to do business efficiently, to access new customers and to compete and grow within a global market. So connectivity, both in terms of digital and transport infrastructure, are priorities.
We are working on these issues on a number of fronts – including through our Growth Deal with Government which will see more than £80m ploughed into transport infrastructure and the roll-out of high speed broadband. I am meeting with BT this month to discuss how we can further speed up the roll-out.
I am also working very closely with the Chairs of other LEPs in the Midlands on transport issues – our roads connect with each other and so it is vital that we are working cohesively as a wider region on these critical matters. While a key part of our strategy is to ensure that we have good connectivity in the Midlands region, it is also about connectivity through to Wales, Ireland and the new Liverpool super-port. It is about ensuring access to both regional, national and international routes to markets.
Q: How can businesses keep up-to-date with what the LEP is doing?
As well as a website and a regular newsletter, we make good use of social media. There is a Twitter feed at @marcheslep and a Marches Local Enterprise Partnership group on LinkedIn. People can sign up for our monthly newsletter on the front page of the website and the group on LinkedIn is open to join.
But we don’t just want to communicate to businesses, we want our businesses to be part of what we are doing. We are asking them directly through surveys and business summit events what their barriers to growth are and we want to see firms engaging with the business boards in Herefordshire, Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin to help set the agenda for real growth.
The Business Boards are there for businesses to feed back their views to the LEP – all three of the chairs, Frank Myers, for Herefordshire; Mandy Thorn MBE for Shropshire and Paul Hinkins for Telford & Wrekin, sit on the LEP board.