This conference was an early opportunity to discuss the West Midlands Local Industrial Strategy following its recent publication.
With the Strategy aiming to capitalise on the Region’s existing sectoral strengths and position it as a leader in fields of emerging technologies such as driverless vehicles, energy management, 5G and AI, sessions examined practical next steps for building the global position of the West Midlands as an advanced manufacturing and engineering centre. It followed the Government’s announcement of £28m for the creation of a battery technology factory for electric vehicles, and there was discussion on where else investment can be targeted to support growth and the other aims of the Strategy.
With digital technology a theme throughout the Strategy, sessions discussed how businesses could be helped to keep up with developments, and what more could be done to support innovation start-ups with a digital focus and more widely.
In considering how policy can best stimulate new research, there was discussion on how stakeholders can develop collaboration between universities, Catapults and technology networks to continue the work of the locally-led West Midlands Innovation Framework.
Delegates considered what needs to be done to achieve the aims set out in the Strategy of ensuring availability of both space and finance for innovation, encourage cross-sectoral innovation and deepen the business-led and peer-to-peer networks.
The agenda looked at how the Strategy can build on the West Midlands Skills Agreement, which sets out how the Government will work with the WMCA to tackle the skills challenge in the region.
With the West Midlands facing challenges such as needing higher employment, more people to be better qualified and new businesses to be nurtured, the seminar was an opportunity to discuss how to meet the Strategy’s aim for a multi-agency approach to retraining existing workforces, retaining graduates and inspiring the next generation to ensure modern manufacturing skills meet market demands.
With the Transforming Cities Fund already committing £250m for local transport improvements in the West Midlands and the development of HS2, delegates assessed the alignment of existing plans with local housing needs and those of local business, and what further plans are needed to develop an integrated transport system, including reducing congestion and improving the tram network.
As the 2022 Commonwealth Games is expected to boost the economy in the West Midlands by around £1.5bn, the seminar discussed what transport, housing and infrastructure needs to be in place and how this will be delivered on time for the Games and provide the region with a lasting legacy.