Policy Priority 2: A strategic aim

Be the spokesman for the West Midlands internationally

  • Use the metro mayor’s profile and visibility to make the case for the West Midlands globally by leading trade envoys, establishing international networks between cities.
  • Represent all industries, not just one or two key firms, to ensure that the broad range of businesses and workers benefit from exporting to the world.
  • Encourage and enable exporters to be ambitious under the West Midlands brand and enhance this brand with the globally recognised firms already exporting.

Through marketing itself as the Midlands Engine and with Birmingham battling with Manchester for the title of second city, the West Midlands has been keen to highlight itself as a valuable brand to trade upon globally. This will be a baton that the metro mayor should pick up from day one to create ties with cities globally. While the mayors of Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region and London have name recognition for a single city, the metro mayor for the West Midland has multiple areas, including Coventry, the Black Country and Birmingham. This gives the metro mayor both a challenge and an opportunity to shape the way the world sees and values the city region. The metro mayor should be using its globally recognised brands such as Jaguar Land Rover, GKN, Birmingham, Coventry and Warwick Universities, as well as its size, global links and diversity, to promote the West Midlands around the world.

Use the metro mayor’s profile and visibility to make the case for the West Midlands globally

The metro mayor’s term will be primarily judged on delivering the services for which they are responsible and meeting the challenges that emerge for the city. But the power of the metro mayor’s office will be considerable as the voice of the most high profile politician in the city region.

For the mayor of the West Midlands this means there is a huge opportunity to convene businesses in the area to ensure they understand business priorities and, where possible, remove barriers to companies’ growth and trade. Strengthening exports will benefit the city region because firms are more likely to trade internationally when firms around them do, and cities with higher export levels are more productive, especially if they export a high share of services. This has benefits for local wages and demand for goods and services.

The metro mayor should be working with central government and UKTI to build networks with cities internationally, brokering links through organisations such as G40 or the Global Parliament of mayors, and reaching out to cities and mayors across the world. This should include opening up trade links by taking businesses on envoys on behalf of the West Midlands, and broadening the scope of exporting ambitions within the city region.

Represent all industries not just one or two key firms

There is more to the ‘Midlands Engine’ than any one industry – Birmingham is now home to 40 per cent of the UK’s national conference trade, it is Europe’s second largest insurance market, tourists flock to the home of Shakespeare, and automotive innovation flows from the Warwick Manufactoring Group. But Centre for Cities’ polling on businesses in the West Midlands found that firms outside the city region’s successful automotive supply chains felt their needs were not well represented.2

The metro mayor must act to change this. While manufacturing makes up a higher share of jobs in the West Midlands than nationally, almost 90 per cent of jobs are not in this sector. Indeed there are more workers employed in the city region’s growing high skilled, knowledge intensive industries, including in the more than 500 legal firms in the city. The metro mayor must ensure that firms from non-manufacturing industries are, and feel that they are, well represented, and that that their ambitions to export are supported.

Encourage exporters to be ambitious under the West Midlands brand

The biggest export for the West Midlands is road vehicles, led by Jaguar Land Rover but supported by myriad supply chain firms throughout the region. The metro mayor should celebrate this and use it to promote the West Midlands brand and encourage the export ambitions of other firms in the city region.

Exports in services from the West Midlands have also increased over the last five years, and the proportion they make up of the UK’s total exports has increased too – the West Midlands is becoming more important in exporting financial services, insurance, pensions and IT. The metro mayor must assist businesses looking to export in these and other industries. The mayor should also ensure that this good news story becomes part of the West Midlands brand and that the most ambitious and growing firms in the West Midlands are recognised worldwide.

The metro mayor will have a big part to play in selling the West Midlands to foreign investors, and opening up trade links to make exporting as attractive and easy as possible to businesses in the city region. The metro mayor must use their profile and position to lead trade envoys, establish international networks and build relationships with cities internationally to sell West Midlands and its firms to the world.

Footnotes

  • 2 Centre for Cities report – Firm views business take on devolution: https://www.centreforcities.org/publication/firm-views-business-take-on-devolution/