In February 2018, Redditch Borough Council published a discussion paper by Brendan Nevin regarding the Redditch economy. His job was to be an independent voice on where Redditch is right now, and what it needs to do going forwards to keep up with the rest of the region.

It’s not easy to find as it is well-buried on the Redditch council website, but fear not: we have gone through Nevin’s paper and extracted key parts that underline our argument that we need to #UnlockRedditch and unleash its full potential if we are to be an economic hub that contributes to the wider West Midlands powerhouse.

We’ve highlighted and screen-grabbed the key parts, so you’ll want to make sure you’ve got images enabled.  

Nevin starts off by recognising that the initial investment in Redditch is now five decades old and needs to be modernised to meet the aspirations of both the government and the WMCA (West Midlands Combined Authority).

Quote: "The investment in the town is now five decades old and much of the offer to business, consumers and investors needs to be modernised."

He recognises that clear thinking is required, because let’s face it, the environment is complex right now. The WMCA is brand new and still settling down, and the government is investing in many things at once. Redditch needs to have a clear head about what it wants.

The ambitions of the WMCA are covered. His paper points out that they want to see 500,000 additional jobs, 1.9 million more homes, and a GVA (Gross Value Added – measure of goods + services in an area) that is 5% above national average. When this is broken down across each area, the targets for Redditch become:

  • 8,000 additional jobs
  • A 1.3bn increase in GVA for Redditch

Those are some pretty big targets! He says:

Emphasis on the words “step change“. That’s a big phrase, so let’s remind ourselves what the dictionary definition is:

Pause for a moment on that definition. “A significant change in policy or attitude“.

Labour have controlled Redditch Borough Council for 6 years. I would argue they have failed to deliver enough economic benefit to the town, or else this independent report would not be calling for a “step change“, would it?

There’s no argument that Redditch has, like every other area, had to struggle against a backdrop of recessions, such as the financial crisis of 2008, and Nevin covers this in his paper too. Redditch did as best it could, with a resilient workforce that really helped us to pull through.

However, when compared to 30 other local authorities across the West Midlands, Redditch comes at the bottom for earnings.

And here is Table 1:

Not only do we have lower earnings in Redditch compared to our neighbours, but we also had negative employment growth over 15 years. Before you cry ‘ah that’s a national issue!’ and blame it on the government, bear in mind two things: a) it was a Labour government for 10 of those 15 years, and b) every other area around us grew.

Why was it that only Redditch suffered? For the vast majority of the last 18 years we have had a Labour-led council. I leave readers to draw their own conclusions therefore.

Nevin points out what all this failed growth has done:

He rightly points out that Redditch Borough Council have started to address the issue with local partners, but there’s a sting here also. He says that to deliver a prosperous local economy will require a “more systemic approach”. This can only come from a Conservative-led council working closely with the Conservative-led County Council and the Conservative-led government as partners, all working together smoothly for the best outcomes for Redditch.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. There is massive amounts of work being done across the region as it becomes more southward-looking in terms of its economy. Projects like HS2 will definitely help, and pages 6-7 of Nevin’s paper make for optimistic reading. When we get to page 8 we start to see how Redditch needs to respond to these changes.

So basically, we’ve built a load of houses in the last 20 years, but we’ve not done enough around our commercial offer. This generally reflects people’s conceptions that Redditch is a housing development for people who work in Birmingham and elsewhere. What Nevin’s discussion paper is saying – and we as Conservatives are saying – is this needs to change and we need to invest in Redditch’s commercial future.

That’s another tough word to digest: a “drag”. We don’t want to be a “drag”, no way! We’re way better than that.

Nevin’s paper at this stage becomes a bit densely-worded, but is basically saying that if we don’t sort things out businesses will begin to leave Redditch to continue their growth elsewhere.

The ‘alternative scenario’ that Nevin starts to talk about is really the prescription he gives on how Redditch can avoid becoming ‘a drag’. Essentially, it focuses on working closely with the WMCA and outlines the benefits this can have in economic terms. He then goes on to look at what stands in the way, or the challenges, around closer working with the WMCA.

We are not alone – the rest of the region also wants us to do well.

Nevin then goes into his “10 point plan” for Redditch. This plan is around the Redditch offer to the WMCA rather than what Redditch can do internally.  These points are interesting, and well-made, and it’s worth reading them all from pages 11-15.

The most pertinent point in view of the #UnlockRedditch campaign is below:

This requires Redditch to think big about the future of its town centre. The Kingfisher Centre is doing great work, and the council needs to further support them in their endeavours by making the area around the Centre attractive and overhauling the ‘run up’ to the Centre.

There is a further point around commercial overhaul and an idea for an Enterprise Zone.  That would certainly #UnlockRedditch and attract new investment from forward-looking businesses. You never know, an Enterprise Zone might even attract back the likes of M&S…

Finally, Nevin talks about how we can improve life chances for people in Redditch. We would argue that only a Conservatve-led council, working with our Conservative MP to work with the Conservative Mayor of the WMCA, Andy Street, would be able to deliver the most effective kind of interventions that Redditch needs.

Nevin then starts to conclude his paper with some interesting thoughts:

We do need to engineer a step change and that’s why Redditch Conservatives has developed #UnlockRedditch which is the foundations for a ‘Redditch Deal’. As we will outline over the course of our campaign, our plans are ambitious and will allow us to unlock the full potential of our town.

Labour in Redditch has sat on all of this for over 6 years whilst our town has stagnated, and in some cases gone backwards. Our thinking cannot remain frozen in time whilst our commercial buildings fall out-of-date, and whilst the rest of the region charges onwards. Labour dithers, we deliver.

Read the full Brendan Nevin discussion paper: