The West Midlands Combined Authority has welcomed the Chancellor’s backing for the Midlands Engine in today’s budget (16 March), whilst recognising it will feature more significantly in future budget announcements.
George Osborne outlined a range of funding initiatives to kick start the Midlands Engine which will impact on business growth, skills, regeneration and transport.
The Chancellor announced the creation of an Enterprise Zone in Brierley Hill, subject to business case approval. He also confirmed an investment of £14 million in STEAMhouse, once again subject to a business case. This is a creative innovation centre in Digbeth, Birmingham, bringing together arts and culture with science, technology, engineering and maths to drive innovation.
The Chancellor announced the extension of additional work coaches in Birmingham for the next financial year. They will work with businesses to match individuals with apprenticeships, training opportunities and skilled jobs.
Additionally £2 million has been allocated to develop a regeneration masterplan for Birmingham’s Snow Hill district that will help maximise the potential of Snow Hill station and the surrounding business district. There is also support for Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP to develop a proposal for a new Knowledge Quarter in the area, around the Curzon Street HS2 station.
Birmingham Children’s Hospital will receive £700,000 from banking fines to complete the fundraising to transform the hospital’s eye department and create the UK’s first centre for children with rare diseases and undiagnosed medical conditions.
The budget has also seen a £1 million contribution towards the transformation of the historic Drapers’ Hall in Coventry into a multi-purpose music venue.
As the Midlands Engine gathers pace, the budget has recognised its progress by supporting the development of Midlands Connect’s long-term transport strategy as well as the region’s traditional strengths in manufacturing and engineering.
Midlands Connect will be on a statutory footing by the end of 2018 to create a sub-national transport body for the Midlands. This will support Midlands Connect in developing and implementing a long term Midlands transport strategy. Priority road schemes have also been identified with a number of initiatives including the upgrading of the M42 and M5 around Birmingham to a four lane smart motorway.
The government has agreed with LEPs in the Midlands and the British Business Bank to create a Midlands Engine Investment Fund of over £250 million to invest in smaller businesses in the Midlands, subject to final funding arrangements.
Councillor Bob Sleigh, Chair of the Shadow Board for the WMCA, said:
“We welcome the investment in the West Midlands and the Chancellor’s acknowledgement that the Midlands Engine is starting to get real traction. As a Combined Authority our priorities around economic growth, job creation, skills and better and quicker transport are reflected in the budget and we look forward to delivering on these important infrastructure projects and developments.
“These are exciting times as well as being very early days for the WMCA. We look forward with great enthusiasm to future budgets when we have every confidence that the West Midlands and the Midlands Engine will feature heavily in the Chancellor’s announcements.”