Dr Abigail Taylor provides an economic snapshot of the Birmingham and Solihull LEP area following the five foundations of the Industrial Strategy: Ideas, People, Infrastructure, Business Environment and Place.
As part of the Midlands Engine Economic Observatory work, WM REDI and the Black Country Consortium Economic Intelligence Unit developed Local Economic Partnership (LEP) level profiles. We have reviewed and updated these profiles and assessed the risks in light of Covid-19 in the State of the Region report.
The Greater Birmingham & Solihull LEP area has internationally recognised research strengths particularly, in advanced material characterisation and use; energy; low carbon technologies; innovative healthcare; and digital technologies.
Researching and producing innovative products and educating the workforce of the future is strongly supported by the presence of five universities in the area: Aston University; Birmingham City University; Newman University College, University College Birmingham; University of Birmingham.
The crucial role that universities play in relation to local economic development is emphasised by the high value of research funding awarded to universities and businesses in the LEP in recent years. Between 2014 and 2018 53,590,192€ was secured from Horizon 2020, the European Union’s Research and Innovation programme. Research councils and the UKRI provided a further £997,002,402 between 2012 and 2021.
Key assets include a large number of business parks and related initiatives in the area:
- Innovation Birmingham Campus
- Birmingham Research Park located adjacent to the University of Birmingham campus
- Longbridge Technology Park and Innovation Centre in Birmingham
- Institute of Translational Medicine at University Hospitals Birmingham
- Birmingham’s Smart City Commission
- West Midlands 5G Testbed
- Kingfisher Business Park in Redditch
- Fradley Park industrial estate in Lichfield
- The STEAMhouse centre for innovation run by Birmingham City University, which supports entrepreneurs, sole traders, companies and citizens to build their businesses, develop products and services and develop new ideas.
- The Enterprise Research Centre at Aston University
- The construction of a new Life Sciences Park by the University of Birmingham
The area has particular strengths in terms of the proportion of firms undertaking marketing innovation (ranked 6th of 39 LEP areas and 1st among West Midlands LEP areas) and design investment for innovation (ranked 9th in England and 2nd in the West Midlands).
Average earnings within the LEP area are the second highest within the West Midlands – an important factor in attracting higher-skilled workers to the area. The area also performs strongly compared to Coventry and Warwickshire and the Black Country in attracting students to remain in the area for study and employment, and in attracting graduates to return to work in the area after they have studied elsewhere.
Employers in the Greater Birmingham and Solihull take on the highest total number of apprentices compared to in Coventry and Warwickshire and the Black Country. In 2018/2019 there were fewer apprenticeship starts per head than in Coventry and Warwickshire and the same number per head as in the Black Country. This is important in terms of enabling companies to have the skills needed to be competitive and develop new products.
Greater Birmingham and Solihull has an extremely diverse population offering an array of international connections, a blend of different cultures and a large proportion of under 25s.
The HS2 Skills Strategy presents opportunities for Greater Birmingham to benefit from the construction of the Advanced Transport and Infrastructure National College.
Greater Birmingham and Solihull is a key regional and national transport hub. Various motorways, 4 major stations, the Midlands Metro and Birmingham International Airport serve the area. The arrival of high-speed rail will improve connectivity across the functional economic area.
One of the West Midlands 5G testbed Hubs is located in Birmingham offering opportunities to develop and test new digital technologies. Nonetheless, continued investment in new housing and new employment sites together with major new infrastructure schemes and expansion of broadband coverage will be important to support growth in the area.
Residential and commercial developments have multiplied over recent years. Total dwelling stock increased by 6% between 2007 and 2018. The House Price to Income Ratio in 2019 was 7.37 compared to 7.70 in Coventry and Warwickshire and 5.96 in the Black Country.
The area is set to benefit considerably from the arrival of HS2. HS2 will cut the journey time from Birmingham to London to 49 minutes and create opportunities to develop ecosystems in the area and increase the quality of jobs available. Burton Town Centre is also set to benefit from the redesign of Station Street.
With the largest business stock amongst the three West Midlands LEPs, Greater Birmingham and Solihull is an important centre of business. It is home to a number of nationally and internationally significant companies. Reflecting the manufacturing heritage of the area as well as a role as a hub for the professional and business services sector for the wider region, these include Mondelez, HSBC, National Express and Jaguar, Wesleyan Assurance Society and Gowling WLG.
At £58,555 in 2019, GVA per employee is higher than in the Black Country but lower than in Coventry and Warwickshire.
The largest sectors in the area in 2018 in terms of the number of jobs were health (13.1%), business administration and support services (10.7%) Manufacturing (9.7%), Education (9.5%) and Retail (9.1%).
The Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP area has the highest number of visitor trips and the highest value of visitor spending in the West Midland 3 LEPs area. The number of trips made increased by 6% in 2017 compared to 2016 to 3.5 m but then fell to 3.3 m in 2018.
The pace of growth and dynamism in the area is demonstrated by how Greater Birmingham and Solihull was one of the three LEP areas with the most improved UKCI score 2010-2019 in the UK Competitiveness Index (based on a measure integrating both the development and sustainability of businesses and the economic welfare of individuals). In 2019, it had the second-highest UKCI score of West Midlands LEP areas after Coventry and Warwickshire.
Although the second most urban LEP in the West Midlands after the Black Country, Greater Birmingham and Solihull has numerous environmental assets including Sutton Park, one of the largest urban parks in Europe.
According to the Index of Access to Health Assets and Hazards, Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP area together with the Black Country LEP area have greater access to health services than the Coventry and Warwickshire LEP area (Gov.uk, 2015).
The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of City-REDI or the University of Birmingham.
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