What's holding Birmingham back?

Hello from Science Capital, where we will be sending out regular event listings and opinions for those interested in innovation across the West Midlands. While I’ve relocated to Edmonton, Canada to take a position at the University of Alberta, I remain committed to the city where I built a national facility and research lab and raised my family over the past 12 years.

I’m also free to call a spade a spade now. Birmingham has always been a place with buckets of potential, especially now. So what’s holding it back?

It’s plain as day to me. Real Leadership is lacking in some institutions that hold the keys to our future. Real Leaders need to engage with the people they serve, and to encourage their best ideas and abilities.

The heads of our great public sector institutions are too often internal systems-level operatives rather than accessible visionaries with experience in creating transformative change. They need to inspire the troops, engender trust and create inclusive plans. Finally, they need to be held accountable when they fail to turn around troubled ships.

This will be a telling year, as the devolution of power from Whitehall and the survival game that tertiary education has become are playing out, and there is turmoil. Greater Birmingham has lost in lieu of WMCA for now, Coventry turned its back, a Mayor remains a pipedream, a cohesive brand is lacking, and our biggest university continues to slip in terms of impact and income.

There is good news. Our business sector and industry remain buoyant. This could be our best decade yet in terms of start-ups, export and visitors. There is a new buzz in Birmingham, with people and companies moving on board. Grand Central is opening its doors to the world, and a regional plan is emerging. Nonetheless there are real problems to be addressed if Birmingham is to achieve its full potential.

Please communicate your thoughts about what is holding innovation back here. Thanks for contributing to our frank and open discussion.