The John Lewis boss at the helm of the Birmingham local enterprise partnership has vowed to lobby hard in the capital to make sure the area “gets the best out of London”.
The new chairman of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Andy Street said his London base and high-profile role at John Lewis gave him political access that could be used to benefit the area covered by the LEP.
The partnership has been set up following the dismantling of the regional development agencies with a mission to support economic growth and private sector job creation in an area which includes Birmingham and Solihull as well as Cannock, East Staffordshire, Lichfield, Tamworth, Bromsgrove, Redditch and Wyre Forest.
Mr Street, who is a member of a group of business leaders assembled to advise the Prime Minister, said one of the main tasks in his role as chair was to build connections outside the region.
“Every region in the country outside London has a tendency to be a bit inward-looking,” he said. “But the truth of the matter is it’s a small country.
“The successful regions of the future will be better connected – and connection can mean everything from fast trainlines to broadband to political connections.
“I hope I can be part of the lobbying on behalf of the West Midlands in London with central Government.”
Sensitive to potential criticism that he does not live in the LEP area and already has a highly demanding role at John Lewis, Mr Street said the chairman’s job was more like a “conductor” leading a team of experts. “There will be a team at the LEP – it’s not a one-man operation,” he said. “It’s about combining with all of the existing bodies such as the development parts of each of the councils who will be playing a key role.
“They will be the people making the applications and doing research.
“My role is to connect that good work together – that isn’t the real time-consuming thing, that’s about bringing people together.”
Mr Street, who grew up in Northfield and Solihull, already has experience of working with decision-makers in the region following John Lewis’ announcement of plans to open a flagship store in the redeveloped New Street Station.
Describing himself as a “proud Brummie and Midlander”, Mr Street said he hoped the LEP “would play a crucial role in bringing private sector jobs back into the region”.
“The LEP does not wave the magic wand itself,” he added. “It is business that creates jobs and existing small and large businesses across the region will continue to do that.
“What the LEP and local authorities can do though is make sure that the environment is the best for business to work in and make sure we get our fair share of infrastructure projects.
“So whether it be the airport or public transport upgrades – we’ve got to be lobbying for that. Also we’ve got to get the right links between business and education. It’s all about providing the environment for business to thrive in and of course making sure we get our fair share of inward investment.”
Mr Street has been widely recognised for his leadership at John Lewis throughout the recession, which the retailer survived in good health with plans for expansion nationwide.
He started his career on the shopfloor at the department store and worked his way up.