Forging for the future: boosting the West Midlands
As part of The Big Conversation, we ran a series of virtual events to explore the best road to recovery for regions across the UK.
On 4 November 2020, stakeholders for the West Midlands gathered as part of Lloyds Banking Group’s Big Conversation to discuss the challenges, opportunities and critical areas needed to help SMEs to get back on their feet and drive economic recovery by supporting young people to get back into the workforce.
The key issues discussed were:
- Businesses and SMEs are balancing survival in the short-term with continued growth in the long-term.
- Apprenticeships are vital for future growth but businesses are currently less able to invest.
- A coordinated regional growth plan supported by the government, industry and education system will stimulate employment opportunities.
- Growth hubs can play a role in helping businesses access consolidated support.
- Matching the needs of businesses with training provisions will boost long-term recovery.
Jo Harris, Lloyds Banking Group and Bank of Scotland, Group Ambassador for the Midlands
Andy Street, Mayor of West Midlands
Jane Stevenson MP, MP for Wolverhampton
Charlotte Horobin, Make UK, Membership Director
George Feiger, Aston Business School, Professor and Executive Dean
Katie Trout, Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP, CEO
Kathryn Marshall, Lloyds Banking Group, Apprenticeships Senior Manger
Lily Alimi, Office of Rachel Maclean MP for Redditch, Parliamentary Researcher
Ninder Johal, Black Country LEP, Board member
Richard Jenkins, Lloyds Banking Group, SME Commercial Banking, Area Director for West Midlands
Watch the event highlights
Challenges and opportunities
Businesses are balancing survival in the short-term with continued growth in the long-term.
- They are grappling with a collapse in demand and the taking on of increasing debt following the pandemic.
- Retaining investment in skills and innovation is crucial to ensuring long-term recovery. However, this is challenging due to the focus on immediate priorities.
Apprenticeships are vital for future growth but businesses are currently less able to invest.
- Apprenticeships bring fresh thinking to the workforce and promote societal cohesion through ensuring young people are not left behind. However, due to the uncertain economic outlook many businesses are limiting the uptake of new apprentices.
New growth areas have the potential to create new jobs and support SMEs in the region.
- West Midlands is a hub for advanced manufacturing including transport technologies, materials and energy storage. Capitalising on this expertise offers an opportunity to drive the wider recovery of the West Midlands.
"Apprenticeships are a mission critical issue for the cohesion of society. It allows businesses to refresh themselves and ensure new ideas are coming through."
Andy Street, Mayor of West Midlands
Solutions to forge for the future
Growth hubs can play a role in helping business access consolidated support.
- Support measures for businesses are available, however lack of awareness can be a barrier.
- Growth Hubs at LEPs can empower businesses and SMEs to navigate complex situations (e.g. skills challenges and accessing grants), but require more funding and resources to do so.
"Research and development shouldn’t fall away even though we’re in a bleak time. I’m encouraged by the Lifetime Skills and Kickstarter schemes."
Jane Stevenson, MP
Matching the needs of businesses with training provisions will boost long-term recovery.
- An integrated growth plan for the region is needed, and will help identify critical sectors that will drive the region’s economic recovery, e.g. construction and engineering.
- Education and training provisions should be designed around these sectors, leading to apprenticeships that result in viable employment opportunities.
Businesses can leverage investments in infrastructure to grow demand.
- Investments in infrastructure, e.g. HS2 offer an opportunity for businesses to access new markets, innovate and take advantage of green/sustainable technology.