This post is by West Midlands’ Mayor, Andy Street. It is taken from a speech he made to Green Alliance’s recent Tech Task Force workshop in Birmingham on future mobility.
Next year it will be 200 years since James Watt invented the steam engine. He was a Scottish engineer but famously also an adopted son of the West Midlands. His work helped to usher in an era of industrial growth in the region. My question is: how can we create the conditions for the next Industrial Revolution in clean growth and digital technologies? And how do we ensure it happens here in the West Midlands?
A West Midlands renaissance is already underway. From 2010 to 2016, the region had the highest growth in annual Gross Value Added (GVA) outside of London. A decade ago, we were at the bottom of the pack, so the scale of change has been huge. Clean and inclusive initiatives have strengthened our economy and contributed to that turn around.
We are changing the way we do business
Our target, when we did our first Strategic Economic Plan in 2017, was 40 per cent carbon reduction within a 20 year period and we’re already nearly halfway to our goal. We have seen here that low carbon and energy technologies are new sources of high productivity growth that, like digital, can change the way we do business across the economy.
The government has asked the West Midlands, Greater Manchester and Oxford Cambridge Arc to take the lead by developing their own local industrial strategies. With a population of four million, the West Midlands has the capability to compete with cities like Boston and Barcelona. It is about time we had a strategy to deliver the right conditions for our businesses to thrive and compete internationally, whilst also addressing the environmental challenges we face.
Birmingham is the cradle of the start-up revolution. There have been more start-ups in Birmingham than anywhere else outside London over the past five years. But the big challenge is getting those digital skills in place to support technological evolution and scale up. We are investing in new, clean transportation across the region, including the railway, Metro and SPRINT, to connect some of the most deprived parts of the region to employment opportunities, so the growth can benefit everyone.
The natural place to develop autonomous vehicles
The automotive industry is a big part of the West Midlands economy, so we are the natural place to take the mobility sector forward in a way that supports the clean growth and AI grand challenges set out in the government’s Industrial Strategy. The future for mobility is also about preparing the workforce with digital skills and training for the data that will support new vehicles and mobility services. The West Midlands will be the test bed for 5G connectivity, it has been designated a future mobility zone and will be the first demonstrator for a national trial of autonomous vehicles. This means investment in the National Battery Manufacturing Development Facility in Coventry, the brains of the autonomous vehicle industry. This facility is critical in autonomous vehicle research and manufacturing throughout the region. The introduction of autonomous vehicles on the streets is not just about testing the vehicles, but also about data management, legislation, licensing and insurance. It is these changes that could enable a range of new mobility business models. We are on the cusp of a revolution and I want the West Midlands to be at the heart of it.
The Tech Task Force was launched in September 2018 to identify how ambitious policy can accelerate the adoption of smart technologies so make businesses across the U.K. grow their profits while reducing their environmental impact.
This workshop was the first of a series with experts from industry, policy and innovation backgrounds to explore and debate the barriers and policy levers influencing the update of smart, clean, technology and business models in the automotive sector.