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The new Chairman of Solihull BID is targeting transport and connectivity to make sure town centre businesses continue to thrive.
Kevin Johns, managing director of Prime Accountants, has taken on the role of Chairman of the Business Improvement District with a clear vision for prosperity in all areas of the town centre.
Solihull BID is a business-funded body formed to improve the town centre through projects, events, marketing and promotion of businesses.
The BID hosts numerous events and festivals to bring visitors to the town centre in addition to funding four Town Hosts who help with crime prevention initiatives and other business support schemes.
Kevin has seen Prime Accountants grow into a practice of 85 staff with offices in Solihull and Coventry but he says public transport improvements must be made to avoid a skills drain as Solihull competes locally and internationally for investment.
Kevin, who lives in Dorridge, believes the High-Speed Two rail project is going to be a major boost and ‘exactly what we need’.
But he says Solihull town centre and the UK Central regeneration scheme need to work together and not in isolation to avoid losing the most skilled employees if connections between the two areas are not considered as part of the vast HS2 scheme.
“High-speed internet is fine, and that sort of digital communication is in place, but simply trying to drive from somewhere like Bromsgrove to Solihull in the morning can take any time up to an hour.
“I still find it incredible that it’s easier to get the train to London from Solihull than it is to Coventry,” he tells InSolihull magazine.
“We have an office in Coventry. We have staff who have to go from Solihull and into Birmingham to get to the Coventry. That isn’t very good, is it?
“The new tram heading out of Birmingham is great, but we seem to be duplicating routes already there, not creating new routes.
“We want people to use the NEC, to stay overnight there, but then come into the town centre to use all the great things here. It needs much better connectivity to achieve this.”
Kevin highlights a similar debate taking place in Coventry, in which business and political leaders are campaigning for stronger connections between the city and the NEC.
“The same discussion is being had in Coventry; a tram between the NEC and Coventry city centre, and they’re winning that argument. The argument is just as valid for Solihull,” says Kevin.
“We have a potential long-term risk that HS2 and UK Central becomes the new business hub and that could be at the detriment to the town centre if we’re not careful.”
The new West Midlands Combined Authority with recently-elected Mayor Andy Street as its figurehead will be crucial to this, according to Kevin.
“I’ve campaigned for this for so long. Quite simply, business doesn’t have boundaries. Our staff work across areas, and our customers are the same.
“Coventry shouldn’t be competing with Birmingham. Birmingham shouldn’t be competing with Manchester.
“These are cities competing with the likes of Berlin and that’s the way of the world and that’s how our clients see things.
“The new mayor will help this. We can look at housing, schools and other important areas, but the most important thing is successful business because this is what funds housing and education.
“If you don’t have successful business you don’t have employment, it’s that simple.”
What does the future hold for a growing business like Prime Accountants?
“Ten years ago, the idea was to convert from a local practice to a global practice and we’ve been very successful in that. We’ve grown rapidly and have plans in place to increase our turnover by another 50 per cent in the next four years.
“We’re a practice of 85 staff and we expect that to be over 120 in the next two-to-three years.
“We spent time creating a career pathway within the business to train our advisors on the ‘soft skills’ they might struggle with.
“The idea is our staff can grow with the firm. Hopefully they see a career for them in Solihull or Coventry.”
Kevin’s aspiration as chair of the Solihull BID board is prosperity in all areas of the town centre and he says this can be achieved through all organisations working together, and not in isolation.
“The BID has one goal in mind and that’s to promote the town centre,” adds Kevin.
“We can co-ordinate this through the council, Mell Square, Touchwood, the police, and any other groups.
“We want the whole town centre to thrive, it’s not just about Mell Square in isolation, or Touchwood, or Station Approach, we want everybody to be successful and will always push for this.”