The Black Country Chamber of Commerce hosted an event at Wolverhampton Racecourse that aimed to explain the West Midlands Combined Authority to the local business community. 71 delegates heard Stewart Towe CBE, Chair of the Black Country LEP, explain that the West Midlands Combined authority has the largest concentration of businesses outside London with a £78 billion GVA and 1.9 million jobs and a population of 4 million. He also explained how the Black Country Chamber of Commerce committee structure enabled members to communicate directly with the LEP and as a result with the combined authority. He said: “Exports in the West Midlands have been growing while in the rest of the UK, exports have been falling. A successful West Midlands is key to the growth of the UK. With 8,000 new business registrations in 2014 and 8,124 jobs as a result of foreign direct investment, business is booming in the region.”

Councillor Bob Sleigh, Chair of the Shadow Board of the West Midlands Combined Authority, explained that the scheme had been submitted to create the combined authority as from April 2016. “As a result of global urbanisation 2 billion people will be living in the top six cities in the world. If we are not working with them, we will be left behind. To rebalance the UK economy we need to grow faster; to address the productivity gap of £16 billion. If we did this, we would generate another £20,000 per household.”

 Keith Ireland, MD of Wolverhampton City Council and Clerk to the West Midlands Combined Authority, took delegates through the detail of how the combined authority would work. He asked Chamber members to “talk up the West Midlands and what it has achieved and to be proactive as members so their views could reach the combined authority through the LEP.”

Laura Shoaf, Strategic Director for Transport for the West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority, explained that the West Midlands population would grow by 400,000 over the next 20 years so it was essential that we found solutions to the congested infrastructure. “Strategic assets such as the West Coast Mainline, HS2 and Birmingham Airport can help the UK’s transport infrastructure but we still need to address strategic assets such as the M6 and M6 Toll that are not functioning as well as businesses need. With limitations on space available for widening our local road network we need to significantly improve public transport and better utilise new technologies such as smart phones and Uber to clear the way for freight. A more strategic approach to funding will enable us to implement a long term planning cycle rather than chasing small amounts of money.”

Delegates raised questions on the Western Orbital, the constitution of the combined authority and access to finance for small businesses.

Bhanu Dhir, Head of Policy at the Black Country Chamber of Commerce and Chair of the event, closed the meeting by highlighting local businesses and their successes and explaining the Chamber’s drive to double the size of the local economy by 2023. “Black Country businesses supply precision components to all the big names in the automotive and aerospace industries. We are able to continually delight customers who have been let down by foreign suppliers. Better transport infrastructure for freight, young people better prepared for work and better access to finance for small businesses can help to contribute £6 billion to the Black Country economy over the next eight years. Our focus on growth and peer to peer learning will deliver the remaining £6 billion required to double the size of the Black Country economy by the end of 2023.”