What will be the key drivers for the West Midlands’ future? Notes from ‘Regional Drivers for the Future’ workshop at the Observatory’s 2009 conference

Chap-3_v1.0_image_ONThere was little disagreement from workshop participants with Gill Bentley‘s opening suggestion that ‘this recession is almost tantamount to war’ in terms of its impact on the region’s prosperity.

Dr Chris Upton‘s account, in chapter 1 of West Midlands: Fit for the Future? (PDF, 5.7mb), of the devastating impact that the 1790s war with France had on the region’s manufacturing industry served as a fitting backdrop for the workshop debate, which asked participants to address the question:

‘What will be the key drivers for the region’s future?’

Equally relevant to the debate was Dr Upton’s description of the region’s ‘traditional resilience’ and capacity for entrepreneurship, something which Norman Gascoigne hints at in chapter 2 of West Midlands: Fit for the Future? (PDF, 5.7mb) when recalling how the positive, collective stance made by Birmingham’s business and professional service sector in the late 1980s led to growth.

Drawing on Gascoigne’s example, Trevor Cornfoot from Advantage West Midlands emphasised the importance of an increased ‘unanimity of purpose’ amongst the region’s leaders during his workshop address, following which, participants began the challenging process of identifying further, complementary solutions.

Key questions raised and debated during the day included:

  • Can we devise dual interventions which involve investment in growth industries and regeneration?
  • Given that local government can not ‘go it alone’ in the same way as it could in the past, can we work more smartly with other regions when bidding for Whitehall resources?
  • Beyond the jargon, can we pin down what activities generate high GVA with a view to understanding our chances of achieving economic growth?
  • Given the socio-economic disparities across different localities in the region (or the ‘north-south fault line’ referred to by Prof. Nevin and Prof. Harding in chapter 3 of West Midlands: Fit for the Future? (PDF, 5.7mb), what would success look like for our region?

Underpinning the debate was a consensus amongst participants and speakers alike that whichever approach is taken by the region, a new kind of partnership working will be required where the ‘personal agendas’ Gascoigne refers to are put aside. Put simply, we will all need to demand more of ourselves if we are to achieve success for the region.

In line with this refreshed vision for partnership working, the Observatory’s own Stephen Howarth spoke of how regional research will need to adapt to better meet the needs of the region’s leaders.

A ‘shared pool’ of research will be needed which cuts across different policy areas.

Also, researchers will increasingly need to facilitate what workshop Chair Tim Gebbels described as ‘hypothesis led’ leadership. Distinct from more traditional leadership approaches, hypothesis led decision making will require innovative research practices that enable theories and scenarios to be thoroughly tested.

Overall, a strong determination to pull together and succeed was evident amongst workshop participants which, if translated into action, can only be of benefit to a region that has been sorely affected by the recession.


The ‘Regional Drivers for the Future’ workshop was based on the content of the first three chapters of the book West Midlands: Fit for the Future? (PDF, 5.7mb) published by the West Midland Regional Observatory, July 2009.

The authors of these chapters are:

Chapter 1: Dr Chris Upton (Newman University College)

Chapter 2: Norman Gascoigne (Regional Finance Forum)

Chapter 3: Prof. Brendan Nevin (Nevin-Leather Associates) and Prof. Alan Harding (Institute for Political and Economic Governance, University of Manchester).

Workshop speakers included:

Tim Gebbels (Advantage West Midlands)

Gill Bentley (University of Birmingham)

Dr Chris Upton (Newman University College)

Trevor Cornfoot (Sub-National Review Transition Team, Advantage West Midlands)

Stephen Howarth (West Midlands Regional Observatory)

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