These are challenging times for cities across the UK and the world. Our cities were built to house and serve the industries that thrived in that location, be it mining, milling, ship building or manufacturing. For many cities those trades no longer exist or have shrunk and a city cannot undo its past and return to a village, so rejuvenation and re-invention has been a theme of the last 30 years and in this age of austerity will remain so for the foreseeable future.
Coventry remains an important manufacturing community for the British economy, home as it has been for over 100 years to luxury car maker Jaguar. Although Jaguar Land Rover continues to perform strongly, overall car manufacturing has shrunk in Coventry with brands like Talbot now a distant memory and Peugeot having returned to its French heartland.
“The city is determined to improve its offering to residents and visitors,” says Kevin Malone, Assistant Director of ICT at Coventry City Council. The IT leader is at the forefront of an organisational and community driven transformation program in the midlands city.
“Coventry is very proud as an Olympics venue and is determined to punch above its weight as a compelling investment opportunity for the business world,” he says. Malone outlines how Coventry has a history of rising from ashes; the city became a manufacturing heavy weight despite its proximity to Birmingham, once the workshop of the world, suffered terribly from the blitz in World War Two and became a major manufacturer again in the post war years. The Coventry Transport Museum drives home the message that if it had an internal combustion engine and went places, Coventry built it. Today the city is also becoming a leader in manufacturing carbon-free technology, a counterweight to its long association with fossil fuels.
As with communities across the nation Coventry is learning to operate on lean budgets and having to cut services. In November 2011 the City Council announced overall cuts of £18.7 million and a cut of £20 million from specific central government grants as well as losing £2 million from its education budget. This has led to 500 redundancies and 100 managerial posts being phased out during 2012 to 2013, which will save £5 million.
But Malone says Coventry is using this financial blitz as an opportunity.
“We have a transformation programme called ABC – A Better Coventry. It is not like other transformation programmes as it is not just about efficiencies. That is important, this is much bigger and much wider, it is more outward looking and asking how can Coventry City Council play a role in this changing landscape of a decentralised UK in the local area?” As Whitehall devolves decision making and provision of government services out of London to local communities Coventry wants to play an active part for the midlands.
“There is a massive change in how services can and will be delivered,” he says.