An engine for UK-India investments

by John Peace

The Midlands Engine chief explains what makes the region ripe for further investment prospects between India and the UK.

Here in the Midlands, we have a proud record as the Engine that powers the UK economy.   Home to over 10 million people and 800,000 large and small businesses, the Midlands has established its reputation as a centre of excellence for a number of sectors including advanced manufacturing and engineering, automotive, aerospace, new energy, life sciences, food processing, agri-tech and high-quality consumer goods.

The Midlands Engine is a pan-regional partnership of local and combined authorities, Local Enterprise Partnerships, Universities and businesses.

Actively working with government, we have built a collective identity, which enables us to present a unified, competitive and compelling offer that is attractive at home and overseas.

The partnership is about additionality, complementing the work of our partners to generate added value – at scale – right across the Midlands.

The Midlands region drives 25 per cent of the UK’s manufacturing capacity and 20 per cent of the nation’s exports. The Midlands has seen more foreign direct investment (FDI) projects in the last five years than any other region outside of London.

Ties with India

The region also has strong ties with India, both educational and sector-specific interactions, such as a visit to Automechanika New Delhi. Some Indian-owned Midlands businesses include Greenlam Europe, Electrosteel Castings, Briggs Industrial Footwear and more. Indeed, Tata now makes more profit per year than it paid for Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) in 2008.

The region is at the heart of the UK’s transport network – geographically we are the cross roads for much of Britain’s road, rail and airport connectivity, with access to 92 per cent of the UK population in under four hours.

We are working together in new and transformative ways to invigorate the £207-billion Midlands economy. We have seen growth of 18 per cent over the last five years, but we are far from achieving our potential. Our ambition is to improve productivity further and add over £50 billion to the Midlands and UK economy by 2030.

The Midlands Engine competes on the world stage and is ripe for inward investment.

Vision

The Midlands Engine ‘Vision for Growth’ sets out five priority areas for investment, which will enable the Midlands to contribute to the UK’s Industrial Strategy.  These strands of work will add significant value to the Midlands and UK economy, and help drive Britain’s post-Brexit economic growth.

Our five areas of focus are:

  • Connecting the Midlands through maximising new technologies to deliver a radical transformation of the Midlands transport network
  • Ensuring business skills needs and the skill levels of Midlands residents are aligned
  • Growing International Trade and Investment in existing and new markets
  • Increasing innovation and Enterprise, creating an environment where our science and innovation strengths can be maximised
  • Shaping Great Places by promoting the Midlands as a great place to live, visit, learn and work enabling the building of 600,000 new homes in 15 years.

The Midlands Connect partnership now forms the transport component of the Midlands Engine for Growth. Its key aim is to make the case for increased investment in infrastructure in the region, particularly transport, which will be a key driving force behind a thriving Midlands economy.

This includes its flagship rail project, Midlands Rail Hub, which aims to improve east-west connectivity by putting 85,000 extra seats a day on to the Midland rail network, cutting journey times between our towns and cities and supporting tens of thousands of new jobs expected by 2030. Midlands Connect’s road strategy includes the Midlands Motorway Hub, which is identifying ways of cutting congestion and journey times on the M5, M6 and M42, and making the case for developing the A46 as a cross-region corridor running south-west to north-east across the Midlands.

Workforce and skills

Midlands Connect has also secured commitment from Government to ensure that the whole of the Midlands can benefit from HS2, with £300 million earmarked to integrate it with the classic rail network in the Midlands and North. Curzon Street Station in Birmingham city centre and the Birmingham Interchange close to Birmingham Airport and the NEC will be up and running in 2026, and we are making the case for opening the East Midlands Hub at Toton three years earlier than planned, in 2030, to unlock the significant growth in jobs and housing expected in the area. The impact on the region will be transformational, improving journey times and reliability, and creating upwards of 150,000 jobs.

We will engage with businesses to ensure that their current and future skills needs are catered for, and support the current workforce with upskilling and career development opportunities to align with their personal aspirations and employer needs.

As a partnership, we are aiming to build a collaborative skills network, bringing together industry representatives and key stakeholders to influence the future delivery of skills in the region.

The Midlands Engine is currently supporting ground breaking 5G pilots and we need to ensure that underpinning skills are provided to sectors where digital skills are an important enabler, contributing to increased productivity.

The Midlands is home to 20 universities providing cutting-edge research facilities and a rich talent pool for industry with over 100,000 graduates per year. We are also home to world-renowned brands with strength in multiple sectors including:

  • New energy and energy saving
  • Next generation transport (new energy vehicles, automotive parts, and aerospace equipment)
  • Biopharmaceuticals and medical technology
  • Food processing and innovation
  • Advanced manufacturing and engineering

SME focus

But, investment is not just about big business. Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are a key part of our diverse economy. And we realise that a barrier to growth for many of our firms is access to finance.

The Midlands Engine Investment Fund (MEIF) has launched its second phase of funding by the British Business Bank to offer a mix of debt and equity finance to SMEs in the region to help them realise their potential.

The fund will support new and growing small and medium-sized enterprises providing £250 million to approximately 1,400 smaller businesses and help create approximately 3,800 jobs.

Barclays has also launched its £370-million Midlands Growth Fund to boost jobs and economic development in the region.

There have been a number of successful trade missions over the last two years, and we are stepping up our programme, to ensure businesses have opportunity to show case their goods or services, including our presence at MIPIM the world’s leading global property event highlighting £11 billion of investment opportunities.

We are also fostering increased innovation and enterprise, creating an environment where our science and innovation strengths in the region can be maximised. By working with our partners, we are driving sustainable business growth, powering start-up and creating quality, highly skilled jobs.

Together with multiple infrastructure developments including the new High-Speed Rail network HS2, the Midlands offers unique trade and investment propositions that are simply unparalleled.

The Midlands is the go-to place for thriving businesses and investment opportunities.

Sir John Peace is Chairman of the Midlands Engine partnership and Midlands Connect.

About the Author: John Peace