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Midlands investment vital if Britain is to keep pace

It’s been a turbulent time in UK politics following the EU referendum. 

We’ve seen the appointment of a new prime minister and the subsequent Cabinet reshuffle, including a new transport secretary in Chris Grayling. 

However, now it’s time to turn our attentions back to building the UK economy into a powerhouse across Europe and the world. And in our eyes, the Midlands will be key to that.

Its position in the UK makes the Midlands not only geographically central, but also economically so.

A report entitled Picking up the Pace from Midlands Connect – the private-public partnership tasked with developing a transport strategy for the Midlands Engine for Growth agenda – outlines the potential benefits of strategic investment in the region’s transport network. These are not self-serving benefits: the position of the Midlands means that, with the right investment and utilisation of High Speed 2, the whole of the UK can experience a boom.

Having grown up in Nottingham, I know the potential of the region and its towns and cities. Great industries have been born, grown and flourished in the area, from high-value manufacturing through to professional services.

The Midlands is England’s manufacturing heartland, contributing more than £240bn to the UK economy each year and is home to a workforce of almost 4.3m – all of whom create a vibrant, cultural and economic hub.

Investment needed right now

To continue fulfilling the potential of the Midlands, we need an affordable, fast and direct network across rail, road and air, delivering our people and goods where they need to be. If we do this, the UK will reap the economic rewards earlier in the next decade.

“The construction industry will feel the benefits, with infrastructure projects being borne out of the need to improve connections between cities and towns”

The government has already committed itself to supporting us in creating a sub-national transport body by 2018. This body will make delivery of our strategy happen, turning potential into a national economic success. However, we need the investment to happen now in order to realise this success and ensure the region is HS2-ready in the next decade. 

Crucially, the construction industry will feel the benefits, with infrastructure projects being borne out of the need to improve connections between cities and towns across the region and beyond. 

Two projects in particular, designed to tackle the road and rail network bottlenecks centred on the Midlands, are highlighted in Picking up the Pace: the Midlands Rail Hub and the Midlands Motorways Hub. Both will be among a number of projects to be included in the Midlands Connect transport strategy due to be published in March 2017.

Construction jobs bonanza

If we get the investment required to speed up journeys across the Midlands, our research shows we can unlock £1bn a year of extra economic growth and create 300,000 new jobs in industries including construction.

“For the UK to keep pace with Europe, the US, China and other emerging powers across the globe, we need the Midlands to be burgeoning”

With exports of £50bn a year – 16 per cent of the UK total – the Midlands already has a strong mix of high-growth industries, including logistics, advanced manufacturing and professional services.

So it makes sense that for the UK to keep pace with Europe, the US, China and other emerging powers across the globe, we need the Midlands to be burgeoning.

This vision of a Midlands Engine sets out a vibrant and growing economy focused on productivity – one that can deliver more jobs, exports and an improved quality of life.

That project has started with the launch of Picking up the Pace and the right strategic investment will result in a stronger economy for the whole of the UK.

Sir John Peace is chair of Midlands Engine and Midlands Connect

WATCH: Construction News reporter Lucy Alderson takes a look at the growing influence of Birmingham and the emergence of the Midlands Engine.

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