The political events of 2016 exposed huge divisions within UK society. Here, City-REDI’s Rebecca Riley speaks of the need for cities to be looking for ways to bring our communities back together again.
There are some important lessons to be learnt from the political turmoil of 2016 which exposed a number of major challenges for cities across the UK. One of these concerns the huge societal divisions that exist. The voting patterns of the EU Referendum on the 23rd June echoed divisions in relation to class, economic status, age, education, and ethnicity, and whilst these are nothing new, they were brought to the fore for all to see. Uniting the city however will require local leadership that understands this challenge as a main concern and recognises its underpinning of other priorities relating to, for example, driving local growth and prosperity. Bringing the city and region back together should therefore be a top priority the West Midlands leadership team that will emerge following the election of the new Mayor on May 5th, whatever political party they are to represent. But what do local people think will unite the city? Here Rebecca Riley shares some insights following the results of a YouGov survey carried out last year in the months following the Brexit vote.
Nearly 20% of respondents don’t know what will unite the city post referendum, so one in 5 people are looking for a solution and will look to local leaders for this, but maybe the clues are in the other responses to the question.
Over a third of people in Birmingham believe their attitude and internationally diverse culture will help unite the city. Young people especially, believe that diversity is something to build on making it the most popular option for those under 40s. As the youngest major city in Europe, with under 25s accounting for nearly 40% of its population, this is a key strength and uniqueness to be built on. We have a rich and diverse student population attracting over 75,000 young people into the area a higher than average pool of young people. Birmingham has large, long standing ethnic communities, and its rich, diverse, young, population is getting better qualified and more evenly qualified across ethnic groups. This diverse population drives a highly entrepreneurial spirit, with some highly successful business born out of it such as East End Foods with a turnover of £180m. This diversity also opens up Birmingham to a wide array of international connections, a variety of languages and blend of many different cultures. The poll results demonstrate there is a real opportunity to build on the integration success.
A further 25% of the respondents said that the economy and regeneration of the city will unite people. Investment in Birmingham is highly visible, with £600m invested in New Street station creating 3,000 new jobs, £500m in the redevelopment of Paradise Circus creating 300,000 sq ft of new office space and High Speed 2 one of the largest civil engineering projects in the UK, expected to create 50,000 new jobs and boost the economy by £4bn per year. All of these major developments signal a growing and vibrant economy ready for greater investment and a city brand that its people can get behind and be proud of.
Uniting the city, will take decisive leadership, and it’s a core task of the new Mayor to champion the city, ensure continued investment and an inclusive approach to ensure everyone can be part of the vibrant, diverse culture and economic growth.