Local Focus: The Black Country
Despite several key strengths in the Black Country, including a robust industrial base and emerging clean and green tech sector, there are longstanding challenges in the region. We have made good progress, however, the Black Country still features pockets of the highest deprivation in the UK.
There is a need for increased housing provision, which must reflect the area’s need in terms of the right tenure mix and a range of housing type of all residents. Levelling up for the Black Country means tackling these issues with a holistic set of strategic interventions and investments that delivers for people, places, and businesses.
Key challenges include:
- Dudley has below average qualification levels, with particular issues at level 4;
- Sandwell’s proportion of residents with no qualifications is double the national average, with deprivation found across the borough;
- Walsall has below average levels of employment, higher levels of unemployment and inactivity than the UK average, and one of the highest proportions of youth claimants;
- A large proportion of the workforce is employed by SMEs, many of which struggle with historical productivity issues, reducing the potential for growth and local job creation.
Levelling up the Black Country has the potential to have an unprecedented impact at a local, regional, and national level. Armed with the right skills and qualifications, and with better transport and digital connectivity, local people can access new and existing higher paid jobs in the area. This would ensure a lasting local benefit to inward investment and business growth.
Configuring the Black Country’s current industrial base to be lower carbon, more sustainable, and more inclusive will enable the local economy to compete globally and make an increasing contribution to the GVA of the West Midlands, and the wider UK.
Progress So Far…
The four local authorities in the Black Country and the Black Country LEP, health and education partners have already made significant progress towards levelling up, including:
- Dudley is undergoing huge regeneration activity both within the Town Centre and across the wider borough, building on the investment opportunities brought about by the Wednesbury to Brierley Hill Metro extension;
- Projects include the Black Country and Marches IOT, Very Light Rail Innovation Centre and the emerging University Campus at Castlehill;
- A new sixth-form college run by Eton College is also due to open in Dudley Town Centre in the next few years;
- Recently submitted Levelling Up Fund bids focus on further investment in education facilities across the borough as well as plans to provide much needed new residential accommodation;
- Sandwell are progressing several holistic schemes in the areas experiencing deprivation across the borough, including plans to provide new affordable housing in Tipton, new leisure facilities in Rowley Regis, land for new homes and schools in Smethwick and a new youth hub in West Bromwich East;
- Key focus in Walsall is town centre regeneration, breathing life into the economy through an ambitious programme for repurposing the high street, with step changes in the built environment, quality housing and cultural provision;
- There is also work to remediate significant employment sites to promote high value, well connected employment sites in the town;
- Walsall is also focusing on boosting educational attainment and qualification levels, having been named as one of the 55 Education Investment Areas across England.
The series of devolution proposals that focus on the Black Country aim to bring investment in new resources, powers, and responsibilities to address the specific levelling up challenges of the Black Country.
- Going further and faster on housing, transport and skills will bring forward challenging sites for development, deliver key transport links such as the Wednesbury to Brierley Hill metro, and co-commission skills support to meet local needs;
- Providing funding to businesses will improve productivity and deliver new Industrial Decarbonisation Zones across the Black Country;
- These will be reinforced by the Net Zero proposals, which will provide funding and flexibility to retrofit homes and make the right changes in the energy system in the future;
- Productivity will also need to be boosted by development and provision of quality employment land;
- Following the Commonwealth Games, a cultural legacy fund and other cultural support will amplify the heritage assets, creative industries and grassroots cultural activities that exist in Black Country towns and cities, to create new jobs, attract tourism and increase pride in place.