Town Hall blog in Birmingham: October 2018

Andy Haldane, Chief Economist of the Bank of England, took part in another Townhall visit in Birmingham on 11 October. He spent the morning with representatives from the African and Caribbean Business Community and we partnered with the Board of Deputies of British Jews for the afternoon.

On 11 October I visited Birmingham for the latest of my Townhall meetings.

First stop was a roundtable with the African and Caribbean Business Community. This provided a very revealing insight into some of the issues facing local businesses in the region. A particular theme was the role of the banking sector in supporting business. A number of companies around the table reported good experiences with their bank, especially in cases where there was an existing well-established personal relationship. Newer businesses starting up, without that relationship, were finding it harder to get a financial foothold.

One of the key points made was that the importance of the banking relationship came as much from the business advice provided on getting started as from the access to finance. Some of the other infrastructure for providing that advice had also been dismantled. In response, informal communities of businesses were being set up, including in Birmingham, on an ad hoc basis.

I also spoke about the Bank’s various initiatives to support ethnic diversity, including our scholarship programme for Afro-Caribbean students.

My second set of roundtables was done in partnership with the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Bank’s second event with them this year following a very successful visit to Gateshead. The Board of Deputies organised this visit with the Birmingham and West Midlands Jewish Representative Council. The tour involved a visit to the Birmingham Jewish Community Care centre, King David Primary School and a meeting of multi-faith leaders at the beautiful Singer’s Hill Synagogue.

One of the key themes from the visits was the importance of turning Birmingham into a city which could attract and retain young, skilled people. At one level, this is a little surprising as Birmingham is a city on the rise. The city centre has been extensively redeveloped and is the most visited shopping destination in the UK outside of the West End. Further plans for redevelopment are underway with the new HS2 station. HSBC has recently located its new UK Head Office to the city. Birmingham also benefits from a large, young and diverse workforce which is growing rapidly.

The question posed was whether the development of the city would be sufficient to attract and retain talent. This was key to supporting local businesses and communities. It meant more than offering people jobs. Housing, culture, transport and social spaces all mattered just as much. Increasing the attraction of Birmingham is a crucial issue for the city and the region.

Another theme of the day, as is the case on many of my Townhalls, was education. Visiting King David Primary School was a fascinating experience. It is a state-funded faith school, providing a Jewish education, at which only around a third of the pupils are Jewish. Around half are Muslim and a significant number are Sikh. Its academic performance and culture means it is a beacon for parents in the region of all faiths. Like my roundtable discussions during the day, it was a fantastic example of the benefits of inter-faith co-operation and diversity.

I would like to thank Phil Rosenberg, Director of Public Affairs at the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and Ruth Jacobs, Chair of the Representative Council of Birmingham and West Midlands Jewry, for facilitating such a wonderful day. I’d also like to thank the Bank’s Agents in the West Midlands, Graeme Chaplin and Glynn Jones, for hosting me.

My next stop will be the first formal trial of the Bank’s new Citizens’ Panels in Northern Ireland on 27 November.

This page was last updated 03 June 2019
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