Where is the “West Midlands”?

28 April 2017

PGC has an office in Birmingham city centre, from which I and my colleagues do business with clients nationally and internationally.

It is a great location. Birmingham has found its confidence again and is resurgent.

I cannot, therefore, understand why the warm and friendly people of this proud city and region allow their politicians and civic leaders to endlessly return to wallow in the mire of weak compromises when it comes to what this great place is called.

The “West Midlands”. Hmmmm…. to anyone from elsewhere the name tells them that this is only the western half of the middle of somewhere. Why would we want them to think that?

Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton are all distinctive and unique places of character. That is not disputed – of course they are.

However, I dared to hope that the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce and the Greater Birmingham & Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership were leading the way towards a “Birmingham” brand under which all in the region could unite and that would become recognisable the world over. I was wrong. I suppose it was obvious from the “& Solihull” that the elected representatives were always going to succeed in fudging this eventually. They define themselves for their electorates and in doing so deny the logic that everyone else understands: that Birmingham – like Manchester, Glasgow, London and the names of other international city regions – is really a collective noun.

Next week, Brummies (and the residents of Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton too) will be voting for a West Midlands Mayor, to chair the West Midlands Combined Authority. Today I read that Marketing Birmingham is to be replaced by the West Midlands Growth Company… this drift back to “West Midlands” is bad news and woolly thinking. “The Midlands Engine” is just another manifestation of the same dull shortsightedness of local self-interested political spin taking precedence over the development of an internationally competitive economy.

Brexit demands that companies in our city region do even more business with increasing numbers of new trade partners all over the world. Those potential overseas customers, suppliers and investors must look up at the arrivals and departures boards of their local airports and see “Birmingham”.

Chair of the new West Midlands Growth Company is Paul Kehoe, Chief Executive of Birmingham Airport. Will we see the rebranding of our region’s admirably successful airport as “West Midlands Airport”?

I doubt it.

(PS Birmingham Airport is, in fact, in Solihull.)