Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the shores of the United Kingdom, ‘levelling up’ and ‘re-balancing the UK economy’ were arguably the biggest concepts dominating the nation’s politics. The decision of the British people to leave the European Union in June 2016 and the subsequent electoral breakthrough of the Conservative Party into traditional Labour heartlands in the Midlands and North of England in the General Election of December 2019, with pledges to significantly invest and refocus the economy on those communities that had been ‘left-behind’, fundamentally transformed the political landscape.
However, the concept of pushing power away from the ‘centre’ and down to communities has been gathering momentum since 1997 with the creation of devolved authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The rise of globalisation; the perceived demise of communities and the financial crash of 2008 were all factors in the 2010-2015 Coalition Government’s desire to give more power back to the people through the Localism Bill of 2011 which provided the legislation for central government to trigger referendums for elected mayors. Devolution, in terms of its importance to the West Midlands region, has gathered significant momentum since 2015 with a number of key events taking place.
- On 17 November 2015, the Chancellor of the Exchequer agreed and signed a devolution deal with the members of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA).
- On 23rd June 2016 and with a turnout of 72% of the electorate, 59.3% of West Midlands’ residents voted for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union with the concept of ‘take back control’ at the heart of the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign.
- On 4 May 2017, Andy Street was elected to serve an initial three-year term as Mayor, working with council leaders and the chairs of the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to deliver the West Midlands’ devolution programme.
- The second Devolution Deal between government and the West Midlands Combined Authority was announced in the Chancellor’s Autumn Budget Statement on 22 November 2017.
- The General Election result of December 2019, in which the Conservative Party achieved a landslide majority, was in part due to the enhanced focus on ‘levelling up’ the economy and spreading prosperity across the whole country as opposed to London getting richer and more isolated in its wealth generation.
As the political agenda shifts towards the regions and decision making becomes increasingly devolved from Whitehall, there is a real and tangible opportunity for a new, independent actor to enter this space, particularly with the significant links that we have into both policy makers and organisations across the region.
Who is creating the new ideas to find solutions to the region’s greatest challenges? Who is producing new research to support better policy making? Who is bringing the key stakeholders together, in an independent space, to create a ‘better’ Midlands to live, work and play in?
The Centre for the New Midlands will do this by conducting; commissioning and promoting new research to stimulate debate and ideas which will help to shape the New Midlands of 2030 and beyond.