Region waits on Midlands Engine plan

Businesses in the Midlands hoping for steer from the Chancellor on the Government’s plans for the devolution of powers to the region have had their patience tested.

The region will have to wait until tomorrow for the specifics of the Midlands Engine plan and how it will address the various productivity barriers across both the East and West Midlands.

However, there were a few clues from what Philip Hammond said elsewhere in his speech.

Promised investment and infrastructure will be used to close the UK’s productivity gap with its European neighbours.

Hammond said the key element of the Government’s plan was to build on the £23bn of additional infrastructure and innovation investment announced at the Autumn Statement.

“Today to enhance the UK’s position as a world leader in science and innovation, I am allocating £300m of the fund to support the brightest and the best research talent, including support for 1,000 new PhD places and fellowships, focused on STEM subjects,” he said.

Of this, £270m will be used to keep the UK at the forefront of disruptive technologies like biotech, robotic systems and driverless vehicles.

All of these sectors – especially the last – form a crucial part of the Midlands’ plans for growth, with research being carried out at the region’s universities being used to spearhead commercially-viable projects.

Enterprise Zones, such as that of MIRA, near Nuneaton, are being developed into a cluster for autonomous vehicle development, while manufacturers such as Jaguar Land Rover are pumping millions into the development of driverless vehciles.

Added to this is £16m for a new 5G mobile technology hub and £200m for local projects to leverage private sector investment in full-fibre broadband networks.

The only specific funding allocation to the region was a £23m pledge to address pinch points within the Midlands’ roads network.

The region could also find itself bidding for a share of a £690m competition intended to help local authorities across England tackle urban congestion and free up local transport networks.

Much of the responsibility for this – at least in the West Midlands – could rest with the new West Midlands Mayor, who will be elected on May 4.

Hammond said the six mayors set to be elected would help their local areas take control of their own destiny.

“We believe local areas understand local productivity barriers better than central government,” he said.

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