2 Jul

Business Secretary Sajid Javid vows to champion 'Midlands Engine'

Business Secretary Sajid Javid has urged local politicians planning a new super-council for the West Midlands to be as ambitious as possible - and vowed to be the region's champion at the highest levels of government.

The high-flying MP for Bromsgrove, who was promoted to become Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills after May's General Election, praised council leaders in Birmingham, Solihull, Coventry and the Black Country for coming together to draw up plans for a new combined authority.

This could take charge of transport decisions, police and skills training and billions of pounds in funding for economic development.

In an exclusive interview with the Birmingham Post, he said: "I will be their biggest advocate in government".

He also insisted the Government's high-profile Northern Powerhouse project, designed to bring together the North East, North West and Yorkshire to create an economic powerhouse comparable to London, would be matched by what he called the Midlands Engine.

Chancellor George Osborne said the West Midlands and East Midlands together would become an "engine for growth" in a speech shortly after the General Election.

Mr Javid, who became an MP in 2010, said he wanted it to be known as the 'Midlands Engine', adding: "A lot of people now have heard about the Northern Powerhouse and what the Government, particularly the Chancellor, means by that.

"But not enough people have heard about the Midlands Engine. I am going to change all that.

"Everyone knows I'm Business Secretary. They know I'm the Member of Parliament for Bromsgrove. But the one thing I want to work on is being known as the biggest advocate of the Midlands Engine inside government.

"And I want to be judged on that as well five years from now. And I hope you will hold me to account."

He said the Midlands had the potential to be a huge economic success, but warned: "I don't think it's had the leadership or necessarily the structure for the leadership."

However, the creation of combined authorities, including the planned authority involving Birmingham and its neighbours, could change all that.

He said: "I think it is right for us, central government, to say right, you are well organised, you are a good economic area and so we can devolve more powers to you, be that skills, transport, a lot of the development funds that are available, infrastructure investment - and I think the West Midlands is ready for that."

Mr Javid said he spoke regularly during the past month to Birmingham Council leader Sir Albert Bore and Andy Street, the chairman of the Greater Birmingham Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) about progress creating the authority.

"It is something that I want to make sure continues to go forward and I will support. But I want them to be ambitious," he said.

"I don't want them to walk into this thinking 'let's just ask for a little bit of this and that'. I want them to be as ambitious as possible.

"And if they can put forward a sensible, well thought-through plan then I will be their biggest advocate in government.

"Because that devolution will help set that region free, attract more investment and create the jobs and opportunities that we want."

Places like Bromsgrove, which are served by the Greater Birmingham LEP but are not part of a local authority which is expected to join the combined authority, could be included in some form in the future, he said.

"They might have different levels of co-operation. I think it's sensible that it's starting with the metropolitan authorities," he said.

He declined to comment on the question of what the new authority should be called.

Council leaders are understood to have decided on "West Midlands Combined Authority" but some business leaders have been pushing for the name "Greater Birmingham" to be used, on the grounds that it's more recognisable outside the region.

"That's a matter for them," said Mr Javid.

But he confirmed that an ambitious proposal would need to include plans for the authority to be run by an elected mayor.

"We want a mayor with executive authority," he said.

The Midlands had been "left out" of Britain's economic success, he said - but the Midlands Engine, a concept which includes the East Midlands as well as the West Midlands, would change that.

He added: "We want every part of the UK to grow and to do well. To create he jobs and opportunities. And I think, for far too long, under successive governments, a lot of it has just been about the South East.

"The Midlands already has so much going for it - think of some the great companies that are already there, the household names like Jaguar Land Rover, Rolls Royce, JCB.

"But also all the smaller enterprises that aren't well know. We have actually seen a record number of start ups from the West Midlands in particular over the past five years.

"It's certainly got the potential. It's got the people."

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