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The Business Magazine July 2024
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WMCA sets out roadmap for West Midlands to become UK digital powerhouse

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27 February 2024
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The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has rebooted its plan on how best to equip the county's residents and businesses in a bid to further boost the region's digital economy.

The new roadmap for 2024 - 2027 sets out how it will work with partners to upskill people, connect more to broadband, drive better use of data, reduce the carbon footprint and aim to become a UK digital powerhouse.

READ MORE: New collaboration aims to drive more sustainable tourism in West Midlands and Warwickshire

Andy Street, the mayor of the West Midlands and the WMCA chair, said: "Since the first Digital Roadmap was published in 2021, we’ve appointed our first Tech Commissioner and secured millions of pounds through the Deeper Devolution Deal - agreed with Government in March 2023 - to support our efforts to make sure our region is healthier and more digitally inclusive.

"Whether it’s developing a smart ticketing scheme to make it easier to use our public transport network, investing in digital bootcamps to improve the skills of thousands of local people or our pioneering Smart City Region programme that is harnessing technology to improve health outcomes, we’re proving here on the ground that digital done right can change lives for the better," he said.

But the roadmap does acknowledge the challenges faced by the region, notably that 46% of the population are non, or limited users, of the internet and that fewer people in the West Midlands use digital public services compared to the national average.

That said, the West Midlands does have a burgeoning digital economy with recent statistics showing the region’s tech sector to be worth £15.3 billion. It is also the UK's best connected combined authority area for 5G coverage, said the WMCA.

Martin Ward, the West Midlands tech commissioner, added: "It's essential that we fully embrace new digital technologies as a key driver of future economic growth in our region.

"Our tech sector has transformed over a generation and there are now job opportunities here in start-ups, scale-ups and major enterprises that were previously only available in London."

Robert Franks, the managing director of WM5G, which is part of the WMCA, noted that he was "delighted" that the West Midlands had extended its mobile and broadband with over 65% geographic coverage for 5G and over 94% of premises passed for gigabit broadband, compared to a UK average of 79%.

"Nevertheless there remain key locations and communities that lack access to fast, reliable and affordable connectivity and we’re committed to address these in the next few years as well as accelerating the economic and social benefits from businesses and public services adopting 5G, sensor and data/AI technologies," he said.

The WMCA said it was already using £4 million of funding secured through the Deeper Devolution Deal with government last year to provide over 20,000 residents with digital devices, while a further £15 million is being invested in bespoke training schemes to help meet the skills need generated by the region's booming tech sector.

The digital roadmap can be read HERE.


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Giles Gwinnett is a writer at The Business Magazine. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and covered a vast array of topics at a range of media settings - in print and online. After his NCTJ newspaper training, he became a reporter in Hampshire before moving to a news agency in Gloucestershire. In recent years, he has been covering the financial markets along with company news for an investor-focused web portal. His many interests include politics, energy and the environment. He lives in Dorset.

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