On Monday I was in Wolverhampton for the signing of the Black Country Deal – a partnership between the Government, local councils and the private sector to help develop key skills and industry in the Black Country.
This new partnership is expected to generate £130million of business investment in the Black Country and to create 5,800 new manufacturing jobs over the next four years.
It was good to see leaders from the Black Country – Conservative and Labour council leaders and non-political business leaders – coming together to get things done locally. Party politics should never be allowed to get in the way of working for our community.
At the moment, it seems like there is more positive economic news every week.
This week we have had extremely good manufacturing figures and the strongest increase in new orders of machinery, plant equipment and IT systems for 20 years. This builds on last week’s GDP figures, which showed the British economy growing faster than any other major economy in Europe.
As the Co-Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Local Growth, one of my top priorities is to restore balance to our economy.
Now that growth is returning, I want to make sure that we do not over-rely on London and the South, nor on the financial sector.
In the decade before the last recession, Dudley and Sandwell’s economies fell further behind the rest of the country – from 88% of the national average in 1997 to 74% in 2008. We have to stop – and then reverse – that slump.
I know from running my own small business how important it is to get the right people with the right skills.
Employers have a responsibility to invest in training and developing their staff – and one of my proudest achievements was being recognised with an Investors In People award.
The Apprenticeship Roadshow that I organised with Jaguar Land Rover last month showcased some of the fantastic opportunities available in the West Midlands, with JLR and with other advanced manufacturing firms.
If we are to reverse the decline of the Black Country economy compared to the rest of the country, we have to make sure that this kind of world-beating training becomes the norm; if we want young people in the area to have the opportunities that they need and deserve then we have to make sure that they have the skills to compete with the very best.
The Black Country Deal is an important step in achieving that.