I spent last weekend in London. I was there two weeks ago too. In my last job I was there pretty much every week. I love the big city! The sites and the sounds of London Town never get boring and there’s more stuff to do than you can shake a stick at.
But, none of those things match the feeling I get as my train home makes the approach to New Street Station. As the Bullring and Rotunda come into view, my little Brummie heart swells with pride. Many of the people I know in London moved there from all around the UK. I’ve got close to moving there a few times. However, every time I start filling out London based job applications, the voice in my head starts talking... and in it, is a Brummie accent and it says ‘Orroite bab, dow’ do it!!’
I read a sad statistic in the paper last week; 62% of students who graduate from Birmingham universities leave the city after their courses are over. That’s roughly 13,000 highly skilled workers leaving Birmingham every year. Many of them will go to London in search of jobs. This is called ‘the brain drain’, and I think it’s rubbish.
The brain drain isn’t just about graduates either, it’s about all sorts of people leaving the towns and cities that built them in search of bigger and better things. The problem with that is that when people leave a place behind, the places they leave never get to grow their own bigger and better things.
This isn’t just a love letter to Birmingham! It’s a rallying call to love your hometown.
Historically, the UK economy was based around manufacturing and industry. In the 1960s those industries started to fall into decline, and then in the 1980s Margaret Thatcher’s government made some massive changes which saw the UK shift away from manufacturing and focused our economy on ‘the service sector’ and especially financial services.
On paper, this was a resounding success! London is the world’s leading financial centre and the service sector now accounts for 78% of our GDP, which is impressive, but it’s problematic too. When manufacturing fell into decline across the UK, there were no plans to replace it. Towns and cities which had depended on industries like shipbuilding, steel work, or mining saw major employers 'shut up shop' which destroyed the communities who depended on them for work.
Those disenfranchised communities are still recovering. It's reflected in the rise of a very angry kind of politics. The rise of UKIP and our collective decision to leave the EU on the back of finger pointing campaigns - point to angry communities who feel forgotten and silenced.
We need to invest time and money in developing skills and new industries in these places to lift them up. That begins with people!
We need people with big ideas and big hearts to start big things in their towns and cities.
The last Chancellor, George Osborne talked about creating a 'Northern Powerhouse’. Which highlighted cities in the North for major investment. It’ll be interesting to see whether Theresa May, the incoming Prime Minister shares this enthusiasm for the project.
Birmingham created a development programme called ‘The Big City Plan’, and it’s working too! The plan is that over twenty years, the city will grow its core by 25% and develop into a city that can compete on the world stage.
As a result of concerted efforts like this, Birmingham is attracting major investment. The development of Tech Hubs like Silicon Canal and Innovation Birmingham have made the city home to more new businesses than anywhere else in the UK.
HSBC is moving some of its core operations to Brum, and HS2 is going to to do great things for the city and we're better for it! Birmingham has a population of over 1 million people, and is the youngest city in Europe, the resources are all here! It’s poetic that a place that was once ‘The City of a Thousand Trades’ and the birthplace of The Industrial Revolution should be leading the charge to diversify our national economy in the 21st century
As I said, this isn’t just a love letter to Birmingham. I think every town and city in the country should develop a 'Big City Plan’ and empower their communities to be the best they can.
My name is Tony, and I’ve just started working with Beatfreeks with an aim to do just that in my hometown. The brummie voice in my head couldn’t be more pleased with my decision.
Written by Tony Bhajam.
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