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These are exciting times for the borough with a town centre masterplan, investment from Mell Square owner IM Properties and expansion at Touchwood. How to do you see the next five years for Solihull as it competes for visitors with other major developments?
I think that Solihull is in a really strong starting position. We're very lucky because it's just a fantastic town both to live in and visit. It's rare to find somewhere that manages to combine such a huge range of shops, including city-centre and high street brands, with the relaxed feel of a close-knit town community.
Over the next five years our challenge is to make sure that customers from far and wide are able to access everything Solihull has to offer. This includes both investing in our transport infrastructure and making sure that we have first-class digital connections that allow businesses to reach customers across the UK and the world.
With all these developments, and wider connections to UK Central and Blythe Valley, what are the biggest challenges Solihull faces?
If I had to sum it up, I would say 'keeping pace with the times'. The pace of change in the 21st Century economy is only getting faster so even places which are doing really well can't afford to rest on their laurels. This means that we must approach Solihull's challenges strategically, trying to get ahead of potentially difficult developments rather than being reactive.
This means taking a long-term view towards investment in transport and infrastructure, trying to plan around future demand rather than simply alleviating current problems. It means that giving local businesses the tools to compete in the digital economy should be our number one priority. And it means working with employers and educators to make sure that our schools and colleges equip young people to thrive in the fast-paced, flexible job market they will be graduating into over the next decade.
Continuing the regeneration and investment theme, what should be at the top of the development in-tray? Education skills? Public transport? Digital connectivity? Any other issues?
Skills and education have to be built into our development plans at every level. I've campaigned hard for fairer funding for Solihull schools, and we should make sure that our excellent local universities, such as Birmingham and Warwick, have the support they need to compete nationally.
Broadband internet is a concern - residents have raised it with me and I know that in places speeds are not where they need to be. This isn't about home entertainment: up-to speed digital access is increasingly vital for businesses too. Research by McKinsey has found businesses with a proper online presence are growing twice as fast as those which don't!
Solihull was recently named in an influential report as having the highest proportion of highly skilled workers in the Midlands. How do we nurture and invest in next-generation skills to make sure the borough maintains this proud record?
Solihull has one of the strongest employment records in the entire country outside London, and a number of large employers who invest in skills. We should make sure to harness that and create an apprenticeship and skills programme which is second to none.
Another way to do this would be to continue to build stronger links between colleges and local businesses, helping to make the move from employment feel like a natural progression rather than a sharp change of course. Projects like the new National College for High Speed Rail can play a major role in helping to challenge traditional attitudes which often place too little value on technical and vocational education, and the Government's school liberalisation programme means that we can now develop a range of specialist schools to suit the diverse needs not only of students, but of employers too.
And finally, there's much excitement with Carluccio's on it's way to the town centre early next year, tell us your favorite places for a bite to eat or to meet family and friends.
We're really spoilt for choice for great places to eat in Solihull, but I do have a few regular haunts like Cafe Rouge and the Met Bar although if I fancy a curry it's got to be Spice Club or Rajnagar. Last year I ran my Best Local Shop campaign and it introduced me to Crust, one of our winners, which is now a new favorite, and my wife and I are very partial to the occasional Five Guys too!