Lord Heseltine springboard for the Midlands


You may remember last month how I wrote about how Birmingham, despite its innovation and design capabilities, is at risk of being overtaken by other UK cities.

I said that something that had struck me over my years in business locally is the lack of confidence that Midlands-based business shows in the local creative community. Well, it seems that perhaps someone in Government was listening. It was announced shortly afterwards that the city is to be the pilot for a major government initiative devised by Lord Heseltine.

The Greater Birmingham Project will see partners involved in economic development come up with a business plan which will focus on the wealth creation opportunities in the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership area. Essentially, the LEPs must take charge of their local economies to enable growth on a national scale, and these proposals will be piloted in Birmingham.

OK, I can’t exactly claim the credit for the Government choosing Brum to spearhead Lord Heseltine’s scheme. When he launched the scheme at KPMG in Birmingham, he told the audience he had been championing localism and restoring powers to Britain’s great cities since the 1970s. Cities like Birmingham, he said, had been made great by entrepreneurs, the “buccaneers”, but the last 150 years had seen powers gradually sucked away by central government leaving regions unable to plot their own destiny.

He warned, however, that there are elements within Whitehall who don’t like the idea of handing back power to the regions. We shall have to wait and see how much ground that opposition may gain, but certainly locally the idea has received a much warmer welcome.

Birmingham City Council and Birmingham Chamber of Commerce have both thrown their weight behind it and Beverley Nielsen, Director Employer Engagement at Birmingham City University has described the project as a blueprint for determining local economic and social growth with innovation at its heart.

Speaking to Business desk.com she said: “It will be essential to build on our region’s commitment to design and innovation to ensure we create new and radical products that will be attractive to both home and overseas markets.”

Research from BCU’s own think-tank, Idea Birmingham, has shown a direct correlation between a business’s focus on design and its growth capacity. The findings showed that where design leads the development of services and products, almost two-thirds (62%) of businesses were planning for growth of more than 10%.   “A lesson we can take from this research is the urgent need to roll out this successful business approach across the Midlands economy to create newly energised economic scenarios,” she said.

Perhaps the Heseltine scheme may be what this region needs to make it rediscover faith in itself and its abilities. After a recent business visit to London I was struck by the energy and vibrancy of the business community. While I fully appreciate the slightly unique economic conditions within the M25 I still feel that the business community there has a distinctly different attitude. The key to this different perspective seemed to be a more entrepreneurial outlook, an understanding that deals needed to be created and the business community could not wait for these to happen. I believe the manufacturing and engineering ingenuity of the Birmingham region needs a similar outlook.

From our own perspective, the region needs to shout about its successes and capabilities much more than it does. We have noticed a squeeze on marketing and promotional budgets that whilst understandable also severely curtails the region’s ability to grow and ride the economic difficult conditions of the day.

There is a greater need for strategic collaboration between companies in order to join together their market efforts to make the most of scarce budgets and project a professional image nationally and increasingly internationally. Encouragingly I can already offer one local example. Engineering firm Alstom is working with Aston University scientists to further research into power grid efficiency in the UK and worldwide.

The three-year PhD studentship project will see the development of theory and methodology, capable of managing complex and fluctuating electrical grid networks and associated logistic challenges in the future. With the weakness of the pound many of our products are becoming more competitive. Combined with the government’s commitment to rebalancing the economy we need to be doing more to promote ourselves as a community with something to offer.

Zulu provide an outsourced marketing solution to a number of companies and they have already found the benefits of accessing diverse skills at a reduced budget. But I feel that more could still be achieved through collaboration of multiple companies focused around a market and a joined up offering.

For more information regarding collaborative marketing email me at ivanyardley@zulucreative.co.uk or contact me on 0121 352 1226.


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