Today, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak MP, will have delivered his budget but we need to make sure that it is fair and doesn’t see Birmingham left behind.
Our city has enjoyed neither the prosperous Conservative cronyism of the south nor the solidarity of northern cities. Rather, the UK’s second city has its own identity, as the leading economy of the Midlands. But what does that mean in real terms?
When it comes to today’s budget, this puts us at great risk of being left behind by the Government’s levelling up agenda.
Last month, the Centre for Cities published its Cities Outlook 2021 which showed that Birmingham is the city facing the biggest levelling up challenge in the country. Following a decade of austerity and underinvestment compared to other regions, Birmingham went into this pandemic with weakened foundations that is now having a direct impact on families across the city.
Our city has since been hit disproportionately by Covid, with high infection rates and some of the highest hospital admissions in Europe, pinballing between varying degrees of restrictions, and forcing businesses to close. Our city now has one of the worst unemployment rates in the country, which Centre for Cities proposes would need to be reduced by 6.7% in order for Birmingham to be levelled up and put on an equal footing with the rest of the country.
Compounding these astonishing challenges, Birmingham has continually lost out under this Conservative government:
- The Conservative West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street’s own analysis shows that he has secured just 5% of the £3.2bn government investment for which the West Midlands Combined Authority bid.
- The British Business Bank’s Future Fund for start-up funding has seen business in London receive nearly 29 times more than the West Midlands.
- Per capita, support for our culture sector from the Culture Recovery Fund is the lowest of any region in England.
- West Midlands Police is penalised by the police allocation formula, and the promised 1,200 new officers will not make up the 2,200 lost in the preceding decade. Violent crime meanwhile has doubled in three years.
- Across my constituency of Edgbaston, when it comes to connectivity, 2% of premises do not even have 10mbps download speeds compared to the national average of 1.4%, with clusters of broadband blackspots in the most deprived areas like Bartley Green. Action on the digital divide has been pushed back time and again.
- Despite promises that the Government would do “whatever it takes” to support councils, Birmingham City Council is now facing a £100m budget black hole.
If you were to look at any of these points on a singular basis, it could be easy to disregard the city as occasionally missing out. However, that is why it is so important that we look at the levelling up agenda holistically. When you look at the bigger picture, it is blatantly clear how the Centre for Cities has such significant risks for our city.
This can’t go on, and we need the Government to make good on its promise to level up the left behind areas of our country.
We need investment in transport infrastructure; in training to get young people who have been so badly hit by this crisis back into education, or work as proposed in Labour’s Jobs Promise; and funding to create new jobs and attract investment in our city.
As Liam Byrne has laid out in detail, this should start with accelerating green investment in our region, as well as providing proper support to Birmingham’s vibrant cultural sector to ensure it is prepared to make the most of the opportunities afforded by the Commonwealth Games next year.
It is crucial that the National Infrastructure Bank, the Levelling Up Fund and UK Share Prosperity Fund have the financial clout to help places like Birmingham recover and rebuild following this crisis.
As the UK’s second city, Birmingham has the people, the expertise, the diversity and community resilience to bounce back from this crisis, but after years of underinvestment and now Covid, we need to see action, not more promises, from Conservative administrations on levelling up.
Today, we must see the start of a vision that meets the task of our times, unlocks opportunity for my constituents, and finally gives Birmingham and the West Midlands a fair share.