Scores of leading business figures from across the region gathered at The Hawthorns football stadium in West Bromwich today for a high-level breakfast question and answer session organised by Richardson.
The renowned real estate and investment business attracted a top-drawer panel of speakers – West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, business guru Lord Digby Jones and Maria Machancoses, director of strategic transport body Midlands Connect – to discuss a string of vital issues.
They debated the need for HS2 and greater east-west transport links, plans to increase housebuilding and the arrival of 5G technology as well as the continuing efforts to improve workforce skills in the region.
Veteran television presenter Bob Warman acted as chairman, keeping the event moving as the panel faced a probing inquisition from the floor.
Responding to a question about some Conservative leadership candidates casting doubt over the future of HS2, Andy Street said he was pressing the case for the rail project in a series of ‘one-on-one’ discussions with each of the contenders.
While housebuilding numbers in the region were heading in the right direction, towards a target of 215,000 over the next 15 years, Mr Street said more work was needed to ensure it included more affordable and public housing.
While there had been significant progress tackling rough sleeping, with the launch of projects such as Housing First , Mr Street urged businesses to take positive action to ensure they supported employees who might be at risk of homelessness – even going so far as to offer a job to someone without a home. It could have a ‘transformative’ effect on their lives, he said.
The call was backed by Lord Digby Jones, who highlighted the work of the Royal British Legion working with former servicemen and women who found themselves living on the streets as they struggled to adapt to civilian life or suffered the effects of post-traumatic stress.
Lord Jones also underlined the arguments in favour of HS2, saying the current rail system was already overloaded and more capacity needed to be built in order to increase the amount of freight that could be moved by rail, taking it off the roads.
The only former head of the CBI to serve two terms as director general, he also addressed the issue of workforce skills, saying the region needed to produce more young people “who can read, write, add up and have a skill” if the West Midlands was to continue attracting investment from the USA, Asia, Germany, Italy and Spain.
Maria Machancoses spoke of the continuing need to argue for more spending on east-west rail and road links across the Midlands. “Forty per cent of freight from the Black Country has the East Midlands as its destination,” she revealed, with many of them needing to get their goods to Immingham and the Humber ports as well as to East Midlands Airport.
She also highlighted the dramatic increase in rail usage over the last decade, with the Midlands seeing the highest growth in passenger numbers of any region in the country – underlining the need for long term transport solutions.
She also argued that it was important that the region was at the forefront of the current 5G communication pilot projects, even if the full range of future benefits was not yet clear, to ensure the region was at the forefront of the latest technological developments.
The breakfast event took place on the eve of the D-Day anniversary, and a minute’s silence was held to remember those who fought for freedom 75 years ago.
As it has grown from its Oldbury roots to operate across the UK and internationally, Richardson has always maintained strong links with the Armed Forces, and Roy Richardson took the opportunity to present a cheque for £1,000 to Kingswinford Royal British Legion to support much-needed work improving car parking at the branch.
In the spirit of remembrance a young schoolboy, Callum Walton, read out his poem recalling the sacrifice of an earlier generation, during World War One.
The Hornbeam Tree, by the Netherton CofE Primary School pupil, was part of a collection of poems by schoolchildren commemorating the 1914-1918 conflict, collated by Dudley South MP Mike Wood and unveiled in Parliament earlier this year.
The reading was warmly received by the business audience at The Hawthorns, and Roy Richardson presented Callum with a commemorative D-Day coin to mark the event.
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