The return of the good times?

But will they by-pass Birmingham? John Duckers takes issue with the city’s obsession with food when really it’s manufacturing that drives job creation.


Great Charles Street car park  and Snowhill 'Bomb Site'

Great Charles Street car park and Snowhill ‘Bomb Site’

Can Birmingham capitalise on what seems at last, after five long years and more, a real economic revival?

As usual there seems to be as many downs as ups.

I congratulate the airport on getting Air India back – playing catch up again, but it’s a start and Birmingham needs to capitalise on this success. Jaguar Land Rover is further expanding its Castle Bromwich operation.

And, despite many false dawns, there are even suggestions that the Snow Hill ‘bomb site’ may actually get developed. Whatever next!

The Government has got the message – its newly launched automotive strategy is encouraging and includes a pledge by the Government and industry to invest around £1 billion over 10 years in a new centre to develop, commercialise and manufacture advanced propulsion technologies (engines to you and me) in the UK. The investment is expected to secure at least 30,000 jobs and could create additional jobs in new supply chains.

We need to attract this centre to the West Midlands.

So, has Birmingham got the message that the only way forward is to invest in success rather than attempt to turn around failure?

The downside?

The Hezza Fund is a damp squib and dark clouds are surrounding HS2.

But nationally is it tempting fate to say that it all seems to be coming right?

Mark Carney has thankfully replaced – not before time – Sir Mervyn King and at last we have got decisive action, straight away promising no interest rate rises for as long as it takes.

In fact, there has been a recent stream of improved data and surveys for the UK economy across a wide range of sectors of the economy, prompting the respected IHS Global

Insight to upgrade GDP forecasts to 1.1 per cent (from 1.0 per cent) in 2013 and to 1.8 per cent (from 1.6 per cent) in 2014.

The purchasing managers’ survey for the dominant services sector showed activity at a 27-month high in June with the new business index at a six-year high. The corresponding manufacturing survey indicated a third successive month of expansion with activity at a 25-month high while the construction survey showed expansion for a second month running, albeit modest.

Consumer confidence rose to a 25-month high in June, while the latest quarterly survey by the British Chambers of Commerce showed business confidence rising in the second quarter to be at its highest level since 2007. Retail sales are improving. New car sales were up 13.4 per cent year-on-year in June, while the housing market is gaining momentum.

In addition we have record high employment, improving corporate profitability, softer oil and commodity prices and a competitive pound.

Not all is rosy – as IHS Global Insight points out, the banks still won’t lend to business, the European debt issue waxes and wanes, despite the more recent positive survey evidence manufacturing output saw a sharp fall in May, and data from the Bank of England showed that household debt was still 140 per cent of household income at the end of 2012, although down from a peak of almost 170 per cent in 2008.

Birmingham must not be sidetracked by mirages.

It will never succeed as some sort of foodie centre – nobody in their right minds would come to Birmingham for gastronomy especially as the vast majority of Brummies prefer pie and chips to gourmet cuisine.

It will never succeed on leisure unless there is a radical new direction – our arts scene is impressive but cannot counteract the abysmal failure to market Tolkien, our invention of lawn tennis, the birthplace of film … it is so depressing.

The city is never going to be Silicon Birmingham however many apps our handful of geeks come up with. In terms of jobs this is icing on the cake stuff.

We need to put everything behind manufacturing.



The likes of JLR are creating secure, well paid jobs in their thousands.

Why aren’t we bending over backwards to woo those with historical connections to the city – the likes of GKN and others.

Innovation, ingenuity and invention in technology must be our salvation. Otherwise we will once again under-perform a UK economic upturn.

It doesn’t have to be like that; come on Birmingham, let’s get motoring.

John Duckers blogs at Duckers and Diving