The Midlands region can be the new Victorians by leading a world of opportunity and ambition in the UK, a UK-US trade conference was told today.
Sir John Peace (pictured), chairman of the Midlands Engine, was speaking at the British American Business Council (BABC) transatlantic conference in Birmingham.
He said: “I think that we in the Midlands are the new Victorians. A hundred years or so ago you could invest in the infrastructure doing bold things and I think that is what distinguishes the Midlands today.
“We are the new Victorians. Over the next five years we look forward to many exciting developments that will enable us to showcase our region.”
Sir John pointed at that next year the UK and the US will be celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim Fathers and pointed to the many historic links between the two countries.
He added: “We have a clear vision about the type of economy we want to create for business and help the people who live and work here to thrive.
“Our ambition is to improve productivity and add £50 billions to the Midlands by 2030. And if we can do this by 2030 I think the Midlands will continue to be leading the way. “
Sir John said The Midlands Engine had priority areas to contribute to the UK’s industrial strategy and add significant value to both the Midlands and UK economy in the post-Brexit era.
He added: “We intend to invest in connectivity, improving our road and rail networks. I would like to see more flights between the United States and the Midlands region. But investment is not just about transformation and improving journey time, it’s about creating jobs.
“This is arguably our great business opportunity in decades, benefiting both the East and West Midlands alike. And it’s not just about big business – it’s the SMEs.
“I know in the United States how important small and media enterprises are to the US economy. But to do this we have to invest in skills in this country, making sure we have a workforce with the right skills for the future.
“And closely linked to that is innovation and enterprise. And this is why it’s so important to have our universities at the very heart of this collaboration.
“But it really isn’t just all about economic growth. It is also about creating great places to live and to work.
“If we can make the Midlands investable and also attractive for people to come and do those things I think we will have success.
“I don’t believe there has ever been a more exciting time to invest, to do business, to live and work in the Midlands – a region that is confident of our abilities and clear of where we are going.
“We are the new Victorians. We are trying to create a new world, and a new set of opportunities for people living here in the Midlands.
“And I would like to think tah over the next five to 10 years as we go through this radical change of technology and industrial revolution the Midlands can lead the way.
“I think we can do that through friendship and in collaboration with our friends and colleagues in the United States.”
West Midlands Mayor Andy Street told the conference: “It is the right time for you to be here in the West Midlands and you are definitely in the right city to have this debate.
“The story of the West Midlands is that we have led the world before. The first Industrial Revolution started here in the West Midlands at Ironbridge anxd we did it againin the Sixties.
“Can we lead again? We are on track to do exactly that and if we do it will be particularly sweet because this region, like some areas of the United States, suffered 40-50 years of decline.
“We felt the social consequences really, really painfully.
“but the great news for the West Midlands is that we do have an incredible economic revival. You could probably argue that the West Midlands is leading the revival.
“Some signs of very visible like the cranes on the skyline, the advent of HSBC to bring their UK bank to the city.
“There is an economic renaissance going on here and statistics confirm that view. It is the fastest-growing region of Britain and we have the best export performance over the past five years.
“We are the only region of Great Britain with a trade surplus with China –I love using that statistic.”
Oliver Griffiths, director of capability at the Department for International Trade, said the government would “continue to press the US for an EU-wide exemption” on the newly-imposed tariffs.
He said: “Only nine per cent of British companies exported in 2016 and we want to stress the new opportunities in the United States.
“We want a fair transition…and ensure that there are no cliff edges in delivering commercial opportunities over the shorter period.”