Skills and transport top Black Country firms’ budget wishlist

Businesses in the Black Country have outlined their wishlist to Government during a visit to the area by Treasury Minister Andrew Jones.

The businesses said skills development, improvements to the area’s crumbling transport infrastructure, more clarity on Brexit and an upgrade to its digital set-up were all priorities in order to support growth.

Mr Jones met with representatives of the Black Country Chamber of Commerce and local authority leaders during a visit to the University of Wolverhampton. The session was hosted by West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street.

The visit was seen as an opportunity for the area to outline its growth requirements ahead of Philip Hammond’s budget later this month.

On the issue of transport infrastructure, talks centred around Dudley, and the improved connectivity offered by the extension of the Midlands Metro. Present at the meeting were two of the main stakeholders in the borough – intu Merry Hill and the Black Country Living Museum. Both will directly benefit as a result of the tram’s expansion.

In terms of skills, the businesses said the shortage of suitably-trained workers was threatening to hold back growth in the area, while many admitted that firms were still struggling to understand, and in turn adapt to the apprenticeship levy, as well as being confused about other policy changes across the technical education landscape.

Corin Crane, chief executive of the Black Country Chamber of Commerce, said: “Ahead of such an important budget announcement it is great to see government commitment to Black Country businesses. It was no surprise to hear the long-standing issues continue to be priorities for businesses, including skills and poor transport infrastructure.

“Our businesses are hopeful of big announcements surrounding the Midlands Metro extension and the devolution of skills budgets and the wider skills agenda.”

Andrew Lovett, chief executive of the Black Country Living Museum, added: “The strength of the Black Country is its ability to adapt, and the Black Country community aren’t the sort of people who look for handouts.

“However, we do require investment to fulfil our potential for the good of the region and the whole of the UK. Investment is a two-way transaction and we’ll all want to deliver on the faith that is put in us through the use of tax-payer’s money.”