Nielsen: Time for innovative thinking by our public sector

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Local authorities and higher education (HE) institutions across the West Midlands must become much better at working together to roll back the impact of austerity, says Beverley Nielsen, the LibDem candidate in the region's Mayoral race.

As Mayor, she would establish a £1bn Innovation Fund to help SMEs devise new products and services, and create an advisory agency so major companies can share their knowledge and expertise with small firms in other sectors.

However, Nielsen says councils, universities and other HE providers must also be more proactive at identifying new revenue streams, to narrow the multi-billion funding gap created by massive cuts in support from central government.

“It's been very pleasing to see signs of innovative thinking, and to identify organisations willing to think and act in different ways, to counteract the damaging impact of seven years of austerity,” she says.

“Warwick Manufacturing Group, for example, has done wonderful work in engaging with the private sector, here and overseas, and has been crucial in attracting major FDI (foreign direct investment) projects, most notably the JLR engine plant at the i54 in Wolverhampton.

“In Birmingham, the three universities have begun collaborating very effectively with the council and the LEP in the healthcare and life science sectors, and again in Wolverhampton, it's been tremendous to see the new construction campus coming forward on the old Springfield Brewery site through a partnership approach.

“However, we need to see such radical thinking throughout the region, not simply here and there. As Mayor, I'd bring the seven metropolitan authorities and all the HE institutions together - not simply those which have chosen to engage in their own initiatives, or just the Russell Group universities.

“In terms of land ownership, and their physical, financial and human assets, the councils and our HE sector are a huge potential resource for this region, capable of driving change and regeneration on an unprecedented scale.

“However, until they are all encouraged to think and act together, rather than on an individual basis, that potential can never be fully realised. We must take the instances of best practice, and ensure that they are replicated throughout the region, or the output gap we face against other regions will continue to widen.”