“Birmingham has seen a cultural transformation over the past 20 years… but we still need to seriously improve academic achievement and make schoolchildren work-ready” – the Chamber’s new president Greg Lowson
Please introduce yourself
I’m Greg Lowson, head of Pinsent Masons’ Birmingham office and newly-elected president of the Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce. I am also the Under Sheriff of the West Midlands and sit on the boards of mac (where I am also co-vice chair) and Birmingham REP. I’m also on an advisory board of Wesleyan Assurance and a trustee of Cure Leukaemia. I am married with three children.
What does your company do?
Pinsent Masons is an international law firm with eight UK and 10 international offices. It was founded in Birmingham in 1870.
Is Brum a good place to do business?
Yes, certainly for a firm like mine. We have fantastic local, national and international clients that we work for from Birmingham and we have no difficulty recruiting good people. Proximity to London is a major benefit, offering local firms competitive advantage over those in Northern cities.
What are your biggest gripes with it?
Many parts of the wider business community suffer from acute skills shortages. New apprenticeship schemes will take years to provide an answer to some of this. We also need to seriously improve the academic achievement of many of our schoolchildren and to be much better at making them work-ready. The youngest population of any European city has to be turned into a competitive advantage. Traffic congestion is also a major problem – both financially to local businesses and in creating a poor impression of Birmingham and the regions.
How do you feel your clients see the city?
Local clients see it as a good place to do business. The strong financial and professional services sector at least matches City of London rivals in terms of quality, while providing better value for money. Clients have also seen a cultural transformation of the city over the last 20 years. We now have more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other UK city outside of London, and the current and proposed office and other developments will maintain this transformation.
Does Birmingham offer any particular advantages as a destination for business?
The central UK position has always been an advantage as is the proximity to London. HS2 will only improve that and the airport runway extension will allow business to connect directly to key long haul markets.
What should our priorities be as a city?
Maintain our position as a leading centre for financial and professional services, ensure the renaissance in manufacturing continues and is recognised in Whitehall, invest in the creative and life sciences sectors which have scope for growth. We need to seize the opportunities that greater regional devolution offers with all of our local partners. The announcement of a joint unitary authority with the Black Country and of a united LEP to reflect that, are key steps in the right direction. The region must present a united face to Whitehall.
If you had £1bn to spend on improving Brum what would you do with it?
Set aside £10m to fund a long-term strategic programme for the delivery of corporate social responsibility (CSR) across the region. A proper CSR programme will improve the academic achievement of our pupils; will make them work-ready; people delivering CSR will benefit in terms of personal development and that hopefully leads to better retention. Over time, employment levels will rise leading to better social cohesion. It will put Birmingham on the map as the UK’s ‘CSR City’. I would use the balance to replace existing local motorways and key roads into the city centre; I would buy the underused M6 toll road and make it free to use, and would make this a seriously cycle-friendly city.