New Commission aims to solve West Midlands’ productivity and skills dilemma

Andy Palmer and Nick Page, chief executive of Solihull Council, launch the new WMCA’s Productivity and Skills Commission

An independent commission to harness the expertise of prominent business people, technical specialists and academics has been launched in the West Midlands.

The project has been developed by the West Midlands Combined Authority with the intention of boosting the region’s productivity and skills levels.

Chaired by Dr Andy Palmer, president and chief executive of luxury car maker Aston Martin, the Productivity and Skills Commission will provide impartial support and advice to the authority as it seeks to reduce unemployment, improve people’s job skills and secure better productivity.

In launching the commission, Dr Palmer issued a ‘Call for Evidence’ and urged the business, education and public sectors to submit their thoughts on the project.

“Our goal as a region is to grow the economy beyond current projections and make our already world-class business base stronger and better still,” he said.

“It’s no secret that there has been a skills and productivity gap in the UK and the West Midlands is no different, and while there is no single cause for this it’s vital we tackle it.

“The commission will focus on identifying solutions to the region’s productivity shortfall, looking to the future and not dwelling on the problems of the past.”

He said that by sharing their experience and best practice, businesses in the region could help deliver practical yet achievable growth plans.

“That’s why we are issuing this Call for Evidence so we can harness that knowledge and use it to help drive the West Midlands economy, equip people with the skills required by the employers of today and tomorrow and ultimately improve the region’s quality of life,” he added.

A WMCA Productivity Leadership Group, led by Dr Palmer and bringing together business leaders from the region’s three Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), will work to ensure plans to drive productivity are designed by and for local businesses.

The group will be advised by experts from across the West Midlands and central government including senior figures in the productivity and skills system and leading academics from the region’s universities.

The new Commission is seen as a key element of the combined authority’s £1.1bn, 30-year devolution deal with Government.

That deal is expected to unlock an £8bn investment package to not only improve productivity and skills but also deliver new transport infrastructure and homes for the region’s four million people.

The commission’s findings will form the basis for a clear vision for productivity and skills in the West Midlands and an integrated plan, linked to the government’s emerging Industrial Strategy.

It will also build on the evidence base developed for the WMCA’s Strategic Economic Plan – Making Our Mark – which sets out a series of ambitious goals to transform the regional economy with 500,000 new jobs, 20,000 additional businesses and at least 156,000 more people with level 4 qualifications or above.

Andrew Cleaves, board director at Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP and a member of the Productivity Leadership Group, said: “We welcome the aims of the commission to identify and understand the full extent of the productivity and skills challenges across the West Midlands.

“It is vital to explore this inter-relationship, particularly in key sectors and for local businesses, so we can create the necessary environment to create jobs and economic growth.”