Prime Minister Theresa May: New Midland Metro route can boost West Midlands jobs
The Prime Minister says better transport links across the West Midlands can help slash unemployment – as she said she was 'optimistic' that the region would be handed more powers under a second devolution deal.
Theresa May visited the region to announce £250 million funding to improve transport in the West Midlands, including £200m to build the Metro extension between Wednesbury and Brierley Hill.
She said the cash boost was about far more than improving transport links, and insisted that she hoped to see further falls in unemployment across the region as a result of the scheme.
Despite unemployment continuing to fall across the West Midlands in recent months, the regional rate is still among the highest in the UK at 5.5 per cent.
Mrs May visited the EEF Technology Hub in Birmingham, along with Chancellor Philip Hammond, Business Secretary Greg Clark and West Midlands Mayor Andy Street.
She told the Express & Star: "I'm pleased that since 2010 we have seen around three million jobs being created around the country and we now see the unemployment rate at a record low.
"While that is really good, of course what our industrial strategy is about is ensuring that we are seeing growth across the whole of the country, and that includes the West Midlands.
"The £1.7 billion transforming cities fund recognises that movement within city regions is important, as is movement within cities, and the announcement that £250m is coming to the West Midlands for the Metro extension is very important.
"Andy Street has been pushing very hard for this and I am pleased that we are now in a position to deliver on that.
"But of course it is not just about that transport link. It is about the investment it will draw in, both in terms of housing and jobs in the local area.
"I want to see people in the West Midlands in work. I want to ensure we see more jobs being created, but I also want so see more higher paid jobs being created.
"That's why increasing people's skills levels is important. It is about skilling up young apprentices for jobs of today, but also learning skills that can help them in the economy of the future."
The £250m transport boost is seen as the first move in a second devolution deal for the region, which the West Midlands Combined Authority has been pushing for with the backing of local MPs.
Under the current deal the Mayor has powers over transport, housing and planning, but a second deal could see increased funding and potential new powers in other areas, including skills training, the development of new automotive industries and mental health services.
The Prime Minister said: "We have been talking to the West Midlands over a second devolution deal.
"I'm optimistic about the discussions that have taken place between government and the West Midlands, and I think we are already seeing, in the combined authority, in the Mayor, the difference that having that devolution can bring."
During their visit the Prime Minister and the Chancellor met apprentices at the EEF Technology Hub's training facility and saw first hand hydraulics operations in action.
The funding announcement came ahead of this week's Budget, and also saw a commitment to working with industry to boost spending on research and development to 2.4 per cent of GDP – the average level among developed countries in the OECD – by 2027.
Mr Clark said the commitment to increasing investment in research and development was a 'landmark moment' for the UK.
"The UK is a world leader in science and innovation," he added.
"By delivering this significant increase as part of our industrial strategy, we are building on our strengths and working with business to ensure that UK scientists and researchers continue to push the boundaries of innovation.
"We want the UK to attract, and create, the best and brightest talents, from Nobel Prize winners to ambitious graduate students, and this game-changing investment will ensure we are the home of the industries of the future and high-quality, good jobs."
Federation of Small Businesses chairman Mike Cherry welcomed the extra money for research, but said transport improvements needed to include investment in roads.
He said: "Many small firms rely on accessible and well-maintained transport networks to move the goods and services their businesses are built on.
"A fundamental part of this investment must be improving local roads."