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and for universities as well, to collaborate.” But Simon Jenner countered this, and said: “What it sounds like we’re saying is that all these businesses that aren’t using ICT/digital, etc, we should beat them around the heads and try to educate them. Or should we just let them go out of business and all those that do know it and do get it, come on and build massive businesses here in Birmingham.” Katie Teasdale politely disagreed: “The challenge, and I think it’s a reasonable one, is that you can’t just let a load of businesses go under just because they’re not engaging in this and don’t understand it in the same way that we do. The public-private response, through the LEP, has to be how do you stimulate that talent, how do you make the third of businesses that Lord Heseltine has identified that can grow, how do you help them understand? “You’ve got to do something that says there’s something in it for them... What will stimulate a business to take this seriously?” What do businesses need to do? Businesses could do more, according to Stuart Towe, who said: “For once in my life I would like to let the public sector off the hook here, and say the best people to mentor and support business are other businesses. We were really surprised to discover in the Black Country that only around 10% of businesses were engaged directly with any of the business support organisations around this table. That’s not a criticism of them, but a criticism of the fact that 90% of businesses are not engaged with anybody at all... “You’ve got to work with that 10% of course,

with partners around the table. But how are you going to get to the 90%? How do we look at the 10% who are engaged to talk about their supply chain, their customer base, their service providers, because if that gives you a multiple of fifty to a hundred, then that’s fifty to a hundred times more businesses you can have an interface with. You can then use those mentors to talk about broadband type activities... If there is a business imperative to do this, business will do it.” Better communication about digital communities is needed, according to Jonnie Turpie: “There’s some good stuff going on in Birmingham, the trouble is not many people know that. We’ve got to create an identity in the city, somewhere...that people in and outside of Birmingham see that it’s a digital city, making visible the talent, expertise and delivery that is happening on the planet – from here. But nobody gathers that critical mass. Superfast being available in a digital district that celebrates the value to businesses, to communities, to engagement, to the future, is something that would help the identity of Birmingham being seen as a place that could make the most of that.” What about involving young people? John Rider said: “Is there a way that we can join young unemployment with a project like this? If we start getting kids off the street into employment, or experience of work – doesn’t necessarily have to be paid employment to start.” The young people are there, suggested Phil Extance, but are not always treated properly. He said: “There are already various mechanisms we could use in

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the city. Apprenticeships, the academies, the graduate placements... all sorts of schemes whereby there are younger people who have got some skills in this area who can be placed and introduced to businesses.... But we have this perceived wisdom that young people don’t have the skills that businesses need and that’s the one that really winds me up. We’re not valuing them for what they do have.” Jonnie Turpie said that young people were used by successful digital businesses: “Around Eastside, there are lots of young, diverse people all working in these businesses. We should corral that, create an identity of those young, diverse, talented, qualified people, and then spread the word beyond the boundaries of a small area.” John Rider liked this idea, but wanted to ensure that there was some level of literacy: “I don’t agree that it’s not necessary for young kids to be able to spell. There’s a marketing agency that took half a dozen graduates on last year and didn’t do any spelling tests. So you’ve got marketing graduates who all came from Birmingham universities, and they couldn’t spell, and some of the written work that went out was embarrassing.” This point exasperated Simon Jenner: “That just encapsulates why we’ve got so much youth unemployment. We want them to sit there 9 to 5.30, we want them to wear a suit, we want them to wear a tie, we want them to be able to spell, we don’t want them to go on Facebook, we don’t want them to go on Twitter, because that’s wasting time. You’re taking creativity and you’re just destroying it.” Paul Tilsley argued that during his time >>

BUSINESS QUARTER |SPRING 13

BQ WEST MIDLANDS issue 1  
BQ WEST MIDLANDS issue 1