So, what are we to make of this talk of Combined Authority? Is Solihull and its independence under threat from big Birmingham? Will our ability to meet the needs of our communities be pruned through diversion of resources into the Birmingham and Black Country conurbation? Should we resist it with all our might?
If we look back into history, we can see that Solihull, as we know it today, owes its existence to Birmingham and the men who made it great. Those men were preeminent industrialists, architects and statesmen of their day. Men like George Cadbury, John Bowen, Matthew Boulton, James Watt and Joseph Chamberlain, who during the 18th and 19th centuries turned Birmingham from a small market town to one of the world’s leading industrial cities.
When the railway came, the economic vibrancy of the city allowed successful men of business and industry to commute. Solihull and Knowle expanded rapidly and thrived on disposable income, Dorridge village came into existence.
In the 20th century these expansions continued. The building of an airfield on the heathland of Elmdon was a seminal moment that results in Solihull having an international airport, the NEC, the soon to opened Resorts World and, in future, the HS2 hub, as jewels in its crown today. And North Solihull was part of Birmingham until it passed into the Metropolitan Borough of Solihull in 1974.
You have but to stand on the platform of Solihull station for a peak hour on a weekday morning and see the hoards that get on and off trains between Solihull and Snow Hill to see just one facet of the massive interdependence between Solihull and Birmingham that prevails today.
The present day work of the Local Economic Partnership and exploration of the potential Combined Authority merely recognises the lesson of the past. In the tail end of the last century, the West Midlands slipped badly down the rankings of regional performance in the UK. To bring this part of the country back to peak form, to realise the full potential of assets on the former Elmdon Heath and push this area back up the ranking of international trade, with all that means to every level and corner of our local economy, there needs to strong leadership and a holistic strategy. The innovators, industrialists, builders and statesmen of today need to work together with common vision and driven purpose. The talking around tables at the LEP and Local Authorities are, hopefully, determining how that might happen.
For our part, in the Solihull community sector, our voice should, I would suggest, be supportive, whilst reminding of the need to ensure that risks of leaving some parts of our communities behind are avoided. The likes of Cadbury fostered their workforce and cared for their people, but the industrial Brum of the 19th century still had a forgotten and excluded underclass. That should not be repeated. It must not be a part of the future and successful Greater West Midland International Powerhouse to which the area aspires.
Further reading – Victorian Birmingham, City of a Thousand Trades, the Workshop of the World.