Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.
The announcement in 2017 that Birmingham was to host the Commonwealth Games fired the starting gun on nearly five years of preparations. We knew that we had a great deal to do to create a Games that would showcase both the Second City and the wider region in 2022.
At the Games, more than 6,500 athletes carrying the hopes of 71 countries will compete in 264 events across 18 sports. But alongside those sports there will also be a huge cultural programme, and an unprecedented opportunity for local businesses to showcase their work to a global audience.
A major International Business Expo is expected to run alongside the Games, highlighting and promoting commerce in the region and sending out the clear message that Britain is open for business post-Brexit. Our ambition is not only an unparalleled programme of sport, but also trade, tourism and investment. Business leaders are already forming the Greater Birmingham Commonwealth Chamber of Commerce; a membership-based international gateway for firms wishing to develop bilateral trade opportunities in Commonwealth countries.
We already enjoy fantastic sporting facilities – places like Alexander Stadium, Villa Park, Edgbaston Cricket Ground, Arena Birmingham and the Ricoh in Coventry – a fact which was a key part of the region’s bid to host the Games. However, vital investment in infrastructure has been necessary to prepare for the influx of visitors and athletes, from accommodation to transport, which has also ensured that the whole of the region, not just Birmingham, can benefit.
This will be the second biggest sporting event ever held in the UK, surpassed only by the London Olympics, and the Government is providing 75% of the £778 million costs, with Birmingham and regional partners contributing the rest.
This Government funding is supported by a hard-nosed business case, that draws upon the long-term benefits generated by the Commonwealth Games in Manchester and Glasgow as well as the London Olympics. Those experiences showed how such events can literally change the trajectory of a place. In the West Midlands, where an economic revival is already underway, the boost brought by the Games will be perfectly timed.
With such significant public funding, we are focused on creating a lasting legacy. We are seeing new and revamped venues taking shape, new transport links, and valuable business ties – but the real target is a renewed sense of civic pride in citizens of the West Midlands, whether through their participation as volunteers, spectators, local hosts, or even athletes. We want everyone to feel it’s their games.
However, while we look forward to the enduring legacies after the closing ceremony, we have been equally determined to garner immediate benefits from this huge investment. They may not start until 2022, but In the West Midlands, the Commonwealth Games have already arrived.
In the last few weeks, there have been a number of exciting announcements. The Games’ new dynamic logo has given it a recognisable identity. The addition of three new sports – Women’s Cricket, Beach Volleyball and Para Table Tennis – means the 2022 Commonwealth Games will have the biggest female and para sport programme in history. International law firm Gowling WLG has been revealed as the Games’ first official sponsor, the first of many to provide business backing.
But it is the physical changes that are taking shape in the run-up to the Games across the region that are already bringing benefits, in terms of skills, jobs and connectivity.
With hundreds of thousands expected to visit our region, we are putting in place a transport network to carry them efficiently to the dozen main venues. That means new railway stations in Perry Barr, near the Alexander Stadium, and at Birmingham University.
Events aren’t restricted to Brum, with swimming taking place in the Black Country, netball in Coventry, bowls in Warwickshire and a number of sports at the NEC, in Solihull. So, rapid ‘sprint’ bus routes are being rolled out to serve key venues, while the Metro system continues to extend into the Black Country. Crucially, these transport investments support economic growth by giving local people access to jobs and link our communities.
Another example of how the Games are already paying dividends is the Skills Hub that has been established in Perry Barr. A huge site in this area, which was formerly occupied by Birmingham City University, has been cleared to create an athletes’ village. Backed by £165 million of Government funds – a further sign of its commitment to the West Midlands – this village will be converted into 1,400 homes for the community after the Games.
However, immediate benefit is being felt by the creation of the £100,000 Skills Hub in partnership with main contractor Lendlease. We know the construction industry in our region will need 50,000 more trained staff by 2030. Funded by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), the hub will offer local people free construction training and a guaranteed job interview after completing a 20-day course.
Work is progressing well on the village, while the nearby Alexander Stadium is getting a revamp that will increase its capacity to 40,000 and make it the home of British athletics. A new aquatics centre in Sandwell – the only venue being built from scratch for the Games – is also providing construction opportunities in the Black Country, once again spreading the immediate benefits of the Games beyond Birmingham.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson oversaw the benefits of the 2012 Olympics for London, and has shown real interest in how 2022 could do the same for Birmingham and the West Midlands a decade later.
Thanks to joined-up thinking, we are already benefitting – the Commonwealth Games are expected to create an average of over 4,000 jobs per year in the run-up to 2022. Economically, we are winning long before the first medal is presented.
There is just one more benefit that we won’t see until the Games get underway – and that is the opportunity to proudly showcase our region in the global spotlight. Birmingham is the UK’s most diverse city, where it is said you can see the world in a day. In 2022, the world will come to us, and we are looking forward to showing just what Britain can do in a post-Brexit world.