Wolverhampton's economic growth was celebrated during the city's third annual Business Week Breakfast on Thursday.

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Benson Elliot, owners of the Mander Shopping Centre, are investing £35 million in the redevelopment of the centre in a huge commitment to the city. It's Director of Retail, Peter Cornforth, was one of the keynote speakers at the flagship event taking place at GTG Training and Conference Centre.

Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Chairman, Stewart Towe, and City of Wolverhampton Council Managing Director, Keith Ireland, also spoke, while award winning business journalist and presenter Declan Curry hosted the breakfast. Delegates also had the chance to network with the city's largest, most innovative and most successful businesses.

Here is the text of managing director Keith Ireland's speech in full:

Good morning everyone. Thank you for being here today and welcome to our city. I'd like to extend a very warm welcome to our special visitors from Anqing in China.  Ni hao. 

I hope you have an enjoyable visit to the City of Wolverhampton and I also hope that you get a sense of our ambitions and the opportunities we have here.

In a minute, I'm going to set out, from a local government perspective what I think the future of the City of Wolverhampton looks like and the exciting plans we have.  Firstly though, I want to talk about Business Week.  As the Managing Director of the City of Wolverhampton Council, I am delighted to see so many colleagues here today.  Business Week is important because it brings us together and gives us an opportunity to find out about the city's economic growth plans. 

You've already heard about some of the city's successes: success in business growth, success in investment, success in helping to improve quality of life for local people and in creating opportunities for adults and young people. We're making excellent progress, but there's more we can do.

The council is a billion pound business, employing over 4,000 people. I'm proud that the council is playing a leading role, working closely with many partners in the room today, to transform the City of Wolverhampton.

As an organisation, we're transforming how we work to better serve the city. I'm immensely proud that - just 3 months ago - this was recognised when we were awarded the MJ's runner up prize for Council of the Year.  Next year I want to go one better.  An important part of our submission, widely recognised by the judges, was our success in driving growth, investment and regeneration.

This council has a strong vision of economic growth for the city.  We're bringing energy and pace to new development and change.  And, despite the unprecedented financial challenges we face, we have not shirked from investing in the city's growth. Creating good jobs, opportunity and growth are essential to our longer term strategy. And if we need to, we will take calculated risks to show the market the real potential of this city.

A great example of this is i10 - a £10 million pound plus investment by the council at the city's new Interchange.  The "market" told us it didn't think high grade office space would work in the city.  We were confident it would and we have proved it.  The office space in i10 was fully let within nine months with some fantastic occupiers.  So we know there is so much more this City can do.

This summer, we launched our 'Invest in the City of Opportunity prospectus in London and for me this sets out what this council is all about - creating and nurturing opportunity.  We work hard to understand our city and we understand the power of collaboration and working in partnership with you.  Together, we are delivering results and I believe we will continue to do so.  And we are open to new ideas especially those that bring quality and meaning to the city and its residents.

We are a city that's very much open for business and open to investment.  We have a number of fantastic pipeline projects.  The £55 million pound Westside development in our city centre is going to bring a great leisure offer with a cinema, restaurants and hotel. This will complement the huge investment our partners, Benson Elliott, are making in the Mander Centre and the city, together this will transform the visitor offer in our City Centre.

The Southside development will be coming to the market soon and will enhance the current retail offer.  The Canalside partnership is gathering pace and will bring quality urban living and leisure to the west of our city centre.

There's a different feel in the city - a sense of optimism and anticipation which we have a huge responsibility to deliver upon.

As part of this, the council is investing heavily in the city's hugely significant cultural and visitor offer.  Working closely with partners, in particular the Local Enterprise Partnership, we've secured funding to support our incredibly important arts and music venues. Millions are being invested in the Civic Halls, while our partners at the Grand Theatre are showcasing their superb million-pound-plus refurbishment.  There are some great shows there this autumn so please visit if you get a chance. We have also invested heavily in improving the city's parking offer with the recent multi million pound refurbishment of the civic centre car park. It's now a much more fitting place for people to park when they're going to a gig at the Civic Halls.

We also have strong partnerships with the business-led City Centre and Bilston BIDs who, like ourselves, are committed to improving and transforming these centres.

Improving access to our city will be critical to future success.  The new £120 million pound interchange - connecting rail, bus, tram and car - will provide a fantastic gateway to the city centre.  I want people to come to our city and to look at it in a new way because it offers great shopping, great nightlife, great entertainment, it has a great looking city centre and a friendly, feel-good factor.

On behalf of the council, I also want to recognise the significant contribution that very many city partners are making to the growth and opportunity agenda.  Our university and college are investing in their facilities and in improving the local skills base. JLR is growing their i54 engine manufacturing plant and perhaps most significantly, many small and medium sized enterprises are making their own hugely important investment here. And that's really important because, 98% of the City of Wolverhampton's businesses are SME's.  It is vital that we listen to the voice of business and that we support and nurture growth here in the city.  One of the ways we do this is by being at the heart of the Black Country Growth Hub, working with partners and the market to provide a streamlined single point access and business support.  The coming together of partners from across the Black Country means we can bring a collaborative value to businesses.  An example is the high value manufacturing supply chain - an online platform which is live now.  Whilst it's still in its infancy, it's giving companies access to automotive and construction supply chains.  In this case, we're leading the way in the West Midlands and we're working with partners in the Greater Birmingham and Solihull and Coventry and Warwickshire LEPs. This will help local companies seize the opportunities created by HS2.  The platform will continue to develop and capture other key supply chains including aerospace, housing, public infrastructure and energy.

I'm also pleased to share with you a new Black Country initiative called Scale-up 100 which is coming in the New Year. It will provide targeted support to companies with growth ambitions. We recognise and applaud the skills, talents, innovation and tenacity of City of Wolverhampton businesses. My message to you today is that the council is committed to helping you to grow.

The next theme I want to cover is quality of life.  Improving the lives of our residents, improving our environment and our education system are vital. Economic growth in the City of Wolverhampton must embrace all generations and communities.

The council has been working hard to support our young people.  I am extremely proud of their GCSE results this year.  The City of Wolverhampton is now above the national average, a huge improvement on previous years and one which reflects the hard work and commitment that we are making in partnership with the city's schools. And the business community has a big part to play here. Applying some of the basics of business to failing schools is helping us to transform them. Having chaired five Interim Executive Boards, put in place to replace failed governance in floundering schools, I can personally say that input from business colleagues has been invaluable. And it's working. We are turning the schools around and improving attainment and opportunity.

So developing our future workforce is a big priority and this is where I want to make another plea for your support.  If you are a business with job opportunities or you could offer a work placement, please consider our exciting new enterprise programme which links businesses to schools in the city.  I hope, like me you want to make a difference to young people's lives and help the next generation achieve their full potential.

Encouraging more apprenticeships is another key focus for the council - they provide a great route for young people into employment.  And we know that more can be done to improve the number of young people choosing an apprenticeship.  Of course, changes nationally are going to influence this. The Government's apprenticeship levy will encourage large businesses to put provisions in place. Our young people need to be able to seize these opportunities.  That's why the council is working in close partnership with the city's college, university and training providers to ensure there is a clear, co-ordinated route to help young people and residents connect with employment.

In Residents Week, next March we will be combining the Wolverhampton Skills Show with an Apprenticeship Event including workshops for employers.

The annual Jobs Fair earlier this month helped launch Business Week 2016 and saw over 2,000 local people attend.  There were 1,500 vacancies on offer from 60 employers and I'm delighted that the council team who organised the event have continued to receive calls from companies with jobs on offer.  I believe that we have an increasingly important role to co-ordinate these job opportunities for residents in our city. We want to give them the opportunity to secure a good job, a good, living wage and the confidence and pride these bring.

Driving housing growth, building more, good-quality homes is another priority. We've been working hard to kick-start this.  There are 10,000 new homes planned for the city. Work started this month at Bilston Urban Village with the first bricks being laid for new homes. Last week, a meeting of the full council approved our new housing company, WV Living, which will bring a mix of high quality housing, affordable homes and support for those trying to get on to the property ladder.

As a council and a city, I firmly believe we are "making things happen".  I know there is a lot more to do and this is where we need you.  If we are going to achieve our ambitions, we need to work together with government, with our communities and with the private sector.  We want strong, open relationships with our partners. 

At a regional level, we are creating the UK's strongest partnership for growth.  The West Midlands Combined Authority which came into force in June this year, will see the city getting a slice of an £8 billion-pound devolved funding package.  We will also benefit from a collective investment fund and money for land remediation.  Though he won't thank me for saying this, a huge amount of credit for this is down to the vision, stewardship and statesmanship of the Leader of the Council, Roger Lawrence.

Wider still, the Midlands Engine will play a critical role raising the city's international profile.  Our distinguished visitors from China are here with us today because of the recognition this City is getting as part of the Midlands Engine. The future is bright for our city and region.

Events like this bring us together and are great opportunities to talk about what we can do to make a difference. And so I want to leave you with a rallying call. Please champion our great city. Take the positive things you have heard today. Use them to challenge the doom-mongers and the 'nay-sayers'.  Tell people about our ambition. Tell them that we are a city that is very much open to business, growing in confidence and a City of Opportunity.

That's hopefully a very neat segway to our next speakers, Alice Woods, Senior Client Manager and Neil Sheaky, Design Director from Uniform. They've been commissioned by the city's Economic Growth Board to help put the City of Wolverhampton on the map. They're going to develop a piece of work to develop a unique, competitive positioning for the city. We need you to help them shape the city's story.  So without further delay, I'm delighted to hand over to them and welcome them to our City of Opportunity.

  • released: Thursday 30 September, 2016