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Birmingham Economic Review 2018: What the Commonwealth Games mean for Birmingham

2022 Commonwealth Games Organising Committee

This blog post has been produced for the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce to provide insight on the findings of the Birmingham Economic Review.

The Birmingham Economic Review 2018 is produced by the University of Birmingham’s City-REDI and the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, with contributions from the West Midlands Growth Company. It is an in-depth exploration of the economy of England’s second city and is a high quality resource for organisations seeking to understand Birmingham to inform research, policy or investment decisions.

This post is featured in the full report and report summary here.

I am only a few weeks into the role of Chair of the Organising Committee and it will no doubt be some time before I can hope to write authoratively on all aspects of the Games, but it is not difficult to see what a terrific opportunity this is for our great city and region.

My career started in the early 1970s in Temple Row and little did I know, as a naïve and rather underwhelming law graduate, that this heralded 40 years of year on year economic decline in Birmingham, the consequences of which have left us with appalling levels of social exclusion and deprivation, poverty, skills shortages and some of the poorest wards in the country.

And of course this era left us with more than just those severe economic consequences.  Somewhere along the way, we lost our confidence, our swagger.  The ‘city of 1000 trades’, the engine room to the empire, the cradle of local government, the self determination and the great sense of common purpose and co-operation between public and private sector leadership, all went missing.  In turn, we lost the confidence of Westminster and Whitehall.

But although at times this decline seemed to be inexorable, we have recently seen a levelling out and increasing signs of a sustainable uplift.  The Games provide us with the opportunity not just to show the world what we can do, but perhaps more importantly the opportunity to rediscover that pride, energy and unity.

With that loss of confidence, we have allowed others to write our story, often being referred to at best as the ‘modest Midlands’.  Little do they know how much we have to offer and what a Games we are capable of delivering!  Above all, it will be the warmth of our welcome – the open city which offered a home to the non-conformists 200 years ago, most notably the Cadburys, still has that warmth in its DNA.  We are not only demographically the youngest city in Europe, but also one of the richest and most diverse.   The many new citizens we have welcomed have had much to do with our improving economic fortunes.  We have all the ingredients necessary to become the exemplar of the modern global city.

There is a lot to do if we are to reach this aspiration and, of course, although I have been asked to write under the heading “What the Games Mean for Birmingham”, if we do our job properly, we will have 24 months to secure lasting legacies for the entire Midlands with the City of Culture stewarded from Coventry and then the Commonwealth Games headlined in Birmingham.

The Games themselves are a massive logistical exercise and we have been left with very little time to prepare.  Beyond that, we have to engage with the region as a whole – Coventry, Solihull and Sandwell are directly involved and there are possibilities of reaching across the whole of the Midlands. 

Perhaps we can see the region finally coming together with one single purpose.  The challenge is daunting – supporting the neighbourhoods who will bear the brunt of the activities through to mobilising an army of volunteers, securing benefits for our businesses and industry and identifying and securing the necessary vision and leadership now.  As my kids would say, “Birmingham 2022, bring it on!”.  Of course, we will make the most of these wonderful opportunities.

John Crabtree OBE
Lord Lieutenant for the County of the West Midlands
Chair of the 2022 Commonwealth Games Organising Committee