News & Insight

Why the Midlands Engine won't start

Max White

It was supposed to be a vehicle for change in central England, but it just won't start

The Midlands Engine was supposed to be a vehicle for change for middle England’s 780,000 smaller businesses, but unfortunately, it just won’t start.

When the £250 million Midlands Engine Investment Fund was announced by Chancellor-turned-Editor George Osborne, critics were quick to question how it had come about. The Northern Powerhouse was the reverberating lyric in the Chancellor’s swansong, whilst the less catchy Midlands Engine felt like little more than an afterthought – something to stop central England from feeling left out.

A year later

More than a year later, it seems the sceptics were right. The Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine Investment Funds were launched in February and March this year, but whilst the Powerhouse has roared ahead, the Engine hasn't left the starting line.

By April, the Northern Powerhouse had resulted in £240,000 being invested in four SMEs allowing a Sheffield company to expand its product range, a Manchester security firm to invest in a new range of equipment, a Leeds fire protection firm got £40,000 to expand and a varnish and insulation manufacturer given backing to look for new markets.

Now in August, six months into the project, the Midlands Engine is yet to spend any of its £250 million budget.

What's taking so long?

The reason, according to Programme Manager, Maria Machancoses, is that the Fund’s organisers are still bogged down in issues to do with procurement. “There has been an unfortunate delay in the launch of the Midlands Engine Investment Fund due to some issues identified by the British Business Bank (BBB) in the procurement process for awarding contracts for the Equity and Proof-of-Concept funds.

“BBB is confident these funds will now be launched in the autumn, with 60 per cent of the total fund made up of debt and small business funds to be open for investment in early August.”

With early August behind us and early September within reach, the Midlands Engine – the economical vehicle for working folk – is no more than a concept car, destined never to leave its glitzy podium.