The Midlands Engine represents a real vehicle for change but the message it conveys is confusing.
That’s the verdict of Johnathan Dudley, Midlands managing partner of Crowe Clark Whitehill and the audit, tax and advisory firm’s national Head of Manufacturing.
He said: “We need to see a clearer message coming through. The name ‘Midlands Engine’ itself is confusing. It is not just for manufacturers, it is for all commercial businesses.
“It does, however, represent a real opportunity to come together and bury parochial differences which do not compute on the international stage anyway.
“The area is seen by many developed countries as being the size of a city region. As such, conflicts between local authorities to block projects like the national stadium, the second runway at Birmingham International Airport and so on, need to come to an end.”
The long-delayed first wave of a promised £250 million Midlands Engine Investment Fund (MEIF) finally saw the light of day at the end of August 2017.
MEIF is a collaboration between the British Business Bank and 10 Local Enterprise Partnerships in the West Midlands, East and South East Midlands.
It is being released in three tranches. A small loan fund providing from £25,000 to £150,000 is being administered by BCRS. The next tier, £150,000 to £1.5 million for SMEs, is administered by Maven Capital Partners, and the equity fund has yet to be allocated to a provider.
To qualify, companies have to be based in the Midlands Engine area.
Johnathan Dudley said: “The Midlands Engine itself is seen as an initiative to promote the region both nationally and internationally. We hope the delays in getting the MEIF out will not be replicated and we will see a marked improvement going forward.”
He pointed out that MEIF money was not necessarily new funding.
“MEIF is, in part, a recycling of legacy funds from the old Advantage West Midlands (AWM). It is hoped that the Midlands Engine will not signal the rebirth of Regional Development Agencies as AWM was seen as an oxymoron, being neither an advantage nor based in the West Midlands.
“High Speed Two (HS2) is coming. We need to embrace this opportunity and the signal that will be at the forefront of technology once more, in a rail sector that our country once gave the world.
“We need to stop being negative and take pride in our region, being proud to be Midlanders at the hub of the country.”
Johnathan cited as evidence of the strength of the Midlands, factors such as the manufacture of world beating cars, power plants and components, and the presence of some of the best brains in the world in Midlands universities.
He said: “The Midlands Engine represents much more than a loan fund. It’s the opportunity to change our mindset, to stop the East/West and old county barrier divides. This will be the real fuel for the Midlands Engine.”
This article first appeared in Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce on 28 September 2017.