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State of the Region 2020 Full Report

Challenges Facing Policy

The evidence base on the impact of covid-19 highlights a number of policy challenges, which have acerbated underlying weaknesses in the regional ecosystem and also threaten our strengths:

Good health & wellbeing –The West Midlands already had poor health outcomes, the pandemic has highlighted this and improving the health of the population continues to be an issue. Driving improvement in physical activity and maximising the sectoral strengths the region such as the health sector, data driven healthcare and life sciences could improve the position.  

Reduced Inequalities –The pandemic has highlighted how unequal society is, from the impacts on health and jobs at risk, through to the polarisation of communities. The pandemic has highlighted the role of key workers in underpinning society and the importance of roles in the foundational economy to vibrant, successful places. It has exposed how important it is to have access to digital infrastructure and the breadth of skills to utilise it. It has exposed need for good digital and safe physical connectivity to enable people to access jobs of the future.

Sustainable Cities & Communities–investing in community infrastructure is important for the future, as we have seen a return to hyper local living and investment in local businesses this creates an opportunity to build on changes the pandemic has brought to support SMEs and local high streets. The importance of open, green space to wellbeing, community support and reducing unnecessary travel are demand changes which could improve places in the long term. We have seen a change in the role of the home, and being able to access good broadband infrastructure and outside space could change the demands homeowners have and could change the face of city centres. 

Decent work & economic growth –The pandemic has accelerated the need for investment in employability to protect workers affected by Covid-19 and to prepare for Brexit. The region already has underlying issues with people unable to access good employment because of their lack of qualifications. The rapid adoption of technology could leave many behind who do not have the advanced skills needed. The acceleration of youth unemployment and collapse of the industries they work in such as visitor economy, retail and culture, is of major concern everywhere, but in a region with internationally significant assets, these are also hit by the reduced global travel. The resilience of the education infrastructure under social distancing and the changing nature of future employment is an ongoing challenge to preparing people for the future. The impact of the pandemic makes addressing these issues even more important going forward and to equip them with the skills needs of the future.

Industry, Innovation & infrastructure –As can be seen in our sectoral assessments we have many assets and strengths in the region, but they are at risk. Forecasts demonstrate our assets can help us recover quicker, so it is vital we make the most of and protect our assets. There is a need to ensure people get the most out of our key companies, HS2, the Commonwealth Games and the City of Culture, and position ourselves as a global region. There is a potential risk to our higher education infrastructure as a driver of innovation and high level skills and business R&D investment, where we are a leader, is a key risk going forward.

Affordable & Clean energy –the drive towards green, clean energy has accelerated with the impacts of Covid-19, as people experience the drop in pollution from reduced movement and the demand for different forms of safe transport rises. Along with the growth in technology and the drive for secure, safe energy this leads to a need for increased transport capacity, green growth and electrification. The West Midlands has major innovation assets in energy and electric vehicle manufacturing providing jobs in one of our biggest sectors, which is also most at risk of collapse post Covid-19. The need to future proof homes and businesses in terms of energy use was a key issue before the pandemic and continues to be, this is especially important as there may be greater use of homes in the future as workplaces, but opens up demand and opportunities for large scale retrofit programmes.