Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.
It has been four months since the eyes of the world fell on Birmingham, when the Commonwealth Games opened in a burst of pride, colour and music. With the baton now passed to Australia, the bunting has come down and thousands of items of sporting equipment have been handed to local clubs. We’re even finding a permanent new home for the iconic ‘Raging Bull’ who stormed the opening ceremony.
Now thoughts have turned to the long-term economic and cultural legacy of the Games. And, as an event prudently delivered in just five years and within budget, it has left a clear and tangible gift – a £60million underspend.
I’m delighted that this money will now be used in part to increase access to sport and culture here and boost the West Midlands’s reputation as a host for major events.
However, in this column I want to tell you how it will also supplement the already hugely successful Business and Tourism Programme that ran in tandem with the Games.
As talks progress on a further devolution deal for the West Midlands, this locally-lead Programme provides a great example of regional leadership – building our reputation across the globe, creating new partnerships, and driving inward investment, growth, and new jobs.
From the start, the Business and Tourism Programme (BATP) aimed to use the spotlight created by Birmingham 2022 to embed positive perceptions of the West Midlands into the international imagination, bringing long-term economic benefits.
Focusing on tourism, trade, and investment, the three-year programme catalysed the West Midlands’ growth strategy, cementing the region, and wider UK, as a globally sought-after location to visit, invest, and live in. The BATP will operate until late 2023 but, supported by funds from the underspend, the benefits of the programme are expected to last much longer.
As with many elements of Birmingham 2022, this was a true first. The BATP is the only accredited Commonwealth Games programme of its kind, delivered by the West Midlands Growth Company on behalf of the West Midlands Combined Authority, alongside the Department for International Trade and Visit Britain.
By also partnering with the bodies that run the Games, the Programme was cleverly designed to tie in with the Queen’s Baton Relay around the world, keying into building excitement as it wound its way across continents to Birmingham.
Crucially, built into the Programme were ways to evaluate its progress, from the immediate benefits of engagement with investors and solid business leads to medium-term goals to shift the world’s perception of the West Midlands.
Even before the opening ceremony, the Programme was delivering – with an eight-fold increase in traffic from India to the Growth Company’s inward investment website in six months. Hundreds of unique businesses were engaged before a starting pistol had even been fired. Now, it is continuing to deliver, with trade leads generated by the Games doubling to 1200.
I recently had the privilege of leading a trade mission to India, a fantastic opportunity to engage with the business community there to showcase just why the West Midlands is the ideal investment destination for their high growth companies.
With nearly 200,000 ethnic Indians living and working here, the West Midlands and India already enjoy a strong relationship, rooted in a shared cultural heritage and strong economic links. India is the UK’s second biggest investor in terms of number of projects, and the West Midlands represents a significant portion of Indian FDI into the UK. In 2020, 57 per cent of Indian investment into the UK came to our region.Across automotive, manufacturing, and technology we know there is tremendous potential for the West Midlands and India to collaborate even more closely. The UK is currently seeking to deepen its relationship with India with a new Free Trade Agreement, but I was able to see how the branding of the Commonwealth Games had significantly opened minds to the potential of the West Midlands.
We met senior figures from leading Indian businesses, including multinational manufacturer Tata Group, motorcycle maker TVS, automotive group Mahindra & Mahindra, low carbon transport firm Switch Mobility, business service provider Firstsource and Air India. Our delegation also visited a number of key industry hubs, including Hyderabad-based T-Hub and the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE).
I also was honoured to visit a number of sacred and cultural sites, embracing Indian culture, a natural aspect of the ‘living bridge’ between the West Midlands and India.The groundwork of this successful trip was laid over the years running up the Games, through the Business and Tourism Programme and our existing West Midlands India Partnership – which aims to enhance UK-India relations and boost trade, investment, connectivity and partnerships between the West Midlands and India.
In fact, the trip was originally meant to take place before the Games, as the Baton Relay crossed India, but was postponed due to COVID. I’m glad it was. Making the journey after the event gave us an ideal opportunity to see its impact and reap its rewards, with new and closer relationships established, Memorandums of Understanding with key Indian regions in work, and a massive increase in enquiries coming into the West Midlands.
This success has been achieved here by harnessing the excitement and profile generated by Birmingham 2022 with a business-like approach, working with partners and the Government to harvest its benefits. The West Midlands faces challenging economic circumstances, and we need to not only attract inward investment, but direct it to the sectors where our economy is going to recover more quickly.
For example, while India is fast becoming a manufacturing superpower, the UK still has leadership in the field of R&D in our universities, providing a natural overlap between the two economies. That’s why the Chancellor’s commitment to increase public funding for R&D to £20bn by 2024-25 is hugely important to us.
From the very start, Birmingham’s bid to host the Commonwealth Games was built on a hard-headed business case, that proactively set up the structures needed to reap the benefits of the event and create a real economic legacy. The Government should be applauded for seeing the potential in that locally-built business case, and funding three quarters of the cost of the Games.
The Commonwealth baton may now have been passed to Australia, but by delivering a brilliant Games below budget, we now have to an opportunity to extend that legacy even further, through initiatives built here, in the West Midlands. The real returns we are seeing on Birmingham 2022 show what can be achieved by devolved decision making and local leadership, ensuring the UK’s regions can compete on the world stage.