The latest from the Black Country 

Black Country Businesses Call for Investment in Transport and Infrastructure to Increase Productivity

IMG 5991The Black Country Chamber of Commerce held a President’s Dinner on Monday 28th November at Novotel Wolverhampton, with a focus on transport and infrastructure. Key business voices were present around the table and the discussions covered the vast array of issues affecting transport, infrastructure and the logistics industry across the Black Country. 

The main areas moving forward that the Black Country Chamber of Commerce would like to see action on includes a level playing field with regards to funding, M6 Toll usage, investment in broadband and support for HGV driver recruitment.

With regards to government funding, the Black Country has been left behind and is not getting its fair share of investment in infrastructure. Total transport public expenditure per capita in the West Midlands was £236 in 2015, compared to London of £600 and Scotland of £514. In terms of total transport capital expenditure over the decade 2004-14, this translates into a shortfall for the Midlands (population 10.4 million) of £15 billion compared to London (population 8.7 million), and a shortfall for the West Midlands (population 5.8 million) of over £5 billion compared to Scotland (population 5.4 billion) during the same period.

Commenting on the broadband investment, Black Country businesses are calling on download speeds to be significantly enhanced to at least 30Mbps and are raising awareness of the potential compatibility issues of upgrading to IPv6. This is important to businesses as connectivity is vital and as a region we need to make sure our digital infrastructure is suited to the needs of modern day business operations.

Broadband will also have an impact on transport strategy, with it increasingly becoming a core component for facilitating the regional, national and international competitiveness of the sector. However, data on the broadband rollout in the Black Country is partial and there are concerns that the national scheme is falling behind schedule and lagging behind global competitors. Globally, the UK is ranked 19th and has an average download speed of 14.9Mbps compared to global leader South Korea, which averages download speeds of 29Mbps.

Following the announcement that BT has been ordered by Ofcom to split from Openreach, Paul Forrest commented: “As the Black Country increasingly develops, and moves towards, so-called Intelligent or Smart Manufacturing, broadband access will become increasingly crucial. However, the national impetus surrounding “Superfast” broadband access appears to be falling behind schedule, with it being suggested that most households will not have higher-speed broadband until 2022. Even with the final introduction of “Superfast”, Britain will be lagging substantially behind its global competitors, with non-financial sectors unlikely to be seen as priority areas, notwithstanding the expansion of intelligent manufacturing.”

Furthermore, HGV driver shortages is something that our members have been informing us of for a while now and this is impacting upon businesses nationally. There are currently no incentives to participate in compulsory training and the average age of drivers is now over 50 years old, whilst businesses are also suffering from drivers leaving once they have received training. Moving forwards, the Black Country Chamber of Commerce will be working with businesses to show the number of jobs available in the area and what incentives would potentially help to support this skills gap.

Colin Leighfield, Director of B. E. Wedge Holdings Ltd, commented: “The President’s Dinner was a huge success and I am looking forward to playing a significant role in the Chamber’s campaign in 2017. It is also great that collaboration is an important message moving forward with links being made with other organisations.”

Corin Crane, Chief Executive of the Black Country Chamber of Commerce, added: “To transform the Black Country economy a focus on productivity should be a key priority. The Black Country Chamber of Commerce is calling for Autumn Statement investment announcements to be followed through so the LEP can deliver on key projects such as infrastructure development, business rate relief, and, importantly, research & development and innovation. For the Small and Medium Enterprises in the Black Country, it is essential that the money announced in the Autumn Statement goes directly to them to support their growth.

“This also follows the Jaguar Land Rover announcement calling for the government to invest in upgrading power supplies and infrastructure to encourage further investment and job creation in the West Midlands. Also, with the scheduled roadworks in place for the M6 junction 10 and 6 this opens back up the question of using the M6 Toll during these times.”   
The Black Country Chamber of Commerce are working on a campaign for 2017 that will explore key issues in more detail relating to the main areas and then take action to support Black Country businesses moving forward.

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