New report sheds more light on West Midlands geography

In the public sector, many of our policies, strategies and services follow administrative boundaries such as regions, local authorities, police force areas, primary care trusts or even wards.

But out there in the real world, people don’t live their lives as neatly as that. Many people live in one place and work, learn or shop in others. Businesses too have customers and suppliers from many different places.

Whilst every person, and every business is different, understanding the patterns in these kinds of links between places is important.

For example, when analysing the local labour market it is no good just looking at the people who live locally if many local workers come from elsewhere.

Understanding “functional geographies” has always been important but the issue’s profile has been raised in recent times as government has sought to devolve more responsibility for economic development to sub-regional and local areas.

Over the next year all upper tier and unitary local authorities will need to produce Local Economic Assessments. Government guidance says that these will need to “identify the economic linkages within the area assessed and between it and the wider economy.”

In preparation for this, the Observatory has just published a report looking at some of the key sub-regional links between places in the West Midlands.

This work was commissioned by Advantage West Midlands and the West Midlands Leaders Board.

The report shows that there is no one definitive forumulation of a map of the sub-regions within the West Midlands, but rather a series of sub-regional geographies emerge based on the range of different issues and datasets considered.

The research will also be of use to those working on Local Economic Assessments and in sub-​regional partnerships to identify relevant geographies for aspects of their work. It will help staff in local authorities and sub-​regional partnerships to identify where they have relationships with neighbours and to inform them over issues where they may need to work together.

More work may be needed to understand local relationships and government has recent published guidance. Further ideas can be found in the Observatory’s State of the Region thematic report, Refreshing the Regional Evidence Base.

Download the research reports

Published 23rd March 2010

2 Responses

  1. Stephen

    I would like to say what a cracking piece of work this is. Sums up what I’ve been saying for a while and here is the evidence.

    Could you possibly also have some headline stats on the final groups with numbers by broad socio-economic group because I have a feeling any area including Birmingham (and the Black Country to a lesser extent) will be populous and varied. Therefore, although geographically close might it be worth splitting these areas up further (particularly in view of what this might mean for future interventions).

    A practical (though maybe not poitically sensitive) segmentation might be between the very deprived areas (say draw an area around neighbourhoods featuring a high proportion of the bottom 5th percentile IMD) and the rest. I am guessing that the rest of the sub-region may have little interaction with these areas (that will also have a very different service mix) and vice-versa. I may be wrong but it seems an interesting hypothesis and serves another purpose in that improving these sub-sub-regions may be critical if we are to ameliorate issues such as the regional productivity gap (again I may be wrong, just a thought).

    As it stands I am slightly concerned that these very deprived areas will be lost in general measures where the mean is increased from nearby affluent areas and I am also wondering whether any other non-geographic segmentation might be useful as well (also the affluent areas will not be as obvious).

    Finally, is it worth exploring Birmingham city centre (or central Birmingham) as a separate entity. For me this is the kernel of the city region and from a leisure and economic perspective is vital so transport connections from a wide area (internationally?) as well as locally are vital – this may impact on the sub-region with Tamworth, Birmingham and Solihull (parts), Bromsgrove, Redditch, North Warks and Warwick (part) becoming a zone of connected motorway towns.

    I hope these comments are useful in maybe exploring these sub-regional dynamics further with hopefully future link-ups with strategic action because I feel this region faces some major challenges (are these increasing with funding being reduced?) and it would be nice to segment these issues and opportunities utilising your methods.



    • Gary

      Thanks for your comments on the report. The scope of the project was to look at the links between places in the region at the sub-regional scale. You are right that, at this scale, most of the sub-regional areas contain a mix of different communities with different socio-economic characteristics. Indeed, having looked at some of these characteristics, we didn’t use them to define sub-regions precisely because they varied so much at a more local geographical scale.

      I think that understanding the kind of issues that you’ve raised will be very important in developing policies at a regional or sub-regional scale. Much of the detail is likely to emerge through Local Economic Assessments (including the worklessness assessments which form part of them). These will be an important part of the evidence base for future regional policies too.

      The role of central Birmingham is certainly an interesting one, as you’ve suggested. The relationships between Birmingham and other parts of the region is complex and will be explored through LEAs and in the development of the regional strategy.

      The Observatory would certainly be happy to help local authorities to understand these issues and how they affect their area. If you’d like to discuss how we can help then please contact your local area lead contact (Helena Duignan is the lead contact for you in Solihull).

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