Andy Street: It’s time to energise England’s regions to tackle the climate emergency

13 Jul

Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.

Today, in the West Midlands, history is being made, in an event that hopes to shape how our nation tackles the threat of climate change.

Our region, working with UK100, is co-hosting the UK’s first International Net Zero Leadership Summit, bringing together metro mayors, core cities, and local authority leaders from around the world.

The aim of this summit? To deliver a clear message to Government that local leadership can play a crucial role in achieving net zero ambitions – but local leaders must be given the power to take greater responsibility over energy. It’s time to energise England’s regions to tackle the climate emergency.

I want to use this column to explain how a shift in power from Whitehall will not only set us on track to a greener future, but will also generate thousands of new jobs across the UK, helping the economic recovery post pandemic.

According to a recent report from the Local Government Association, regional leaders either control or strongly influence over a third of the nation’s carbon emissions and are already driving change.

Here in the West Midlands, we have set up five energy innovation zones which are pioneering new approaches to managing energy demand; all working to develop greener practices that can be rolled out across the UK.

Our public transport is evolving to provide greener ways for residents to get around, whether that’s through the fleet of electric buses set to take to the streets of Coventry, the battery-powered trams that run on our growing metro network or the cycle and e-scooter hire schemes that have been delivered across our seven boroughs.

And, as the home of the nation’s biggest automotive cluster, we are also pioneering the de-carbonisation of transport with state-of-the-art technology, through the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre and the work of companies like JLR.

All of this locally-led ambition – which is mirrored up and down the country – shows that our regions and cities are ready to lead the way on reducing emissions, while also ensuring that the burgeoning green economy helps level up the nation by creating new jobs and opportunity.

Perhaps the most obvious example of this is the need to “retrofit” old homes, to make them more energy efficient.

The West Midlands has the highest fuel poverty gap in the UK, due to the high average age of local housing stock. We have thousands upon thousands of homes that need to be updated in this way, from modernising heating methods to improving insulation and glazing.

Indeed, it’s the same in every corner of the UK. But while this is a national issue – which has been recognised by the Prime Minister – local leaders are best placed to tackle this huge challenge. Local leadership could deliver the changes needed at pace and create thousands of jobs in the process. A devolved national retrofit programme would make the Government’s mammoth task more manageable.

What’s more, our existing devolved powers can ensure local workers have the right skills to move into the jobs that will be created. As we plot the economic recovery, we are already organising courses and bootcamps to give residents new digital skills or to prepare them to service the electric vehicles that will be rolling off production lines in the near future. It is a natural step for us to expand this provision to include retrofit skills such as insulation and double glazing.

We are ready to take this retrofit revolution on – in the West Midlands we are starting to retrofit more than 240,000 homes. A devolution deal would enable local leaders to get on with the job, simultaneously addressing emissions while helping the economic recovery, generating half a million jobs across the UK with 40,000-plus jobs in the West Midlands alone.

And crucially, a green devolution deal would also allow local leaders to invest in local innovation and potential. I have seen first-hand the ground-breaking ideas being developed by local start-ups, from renewable batteries to 5G-connected wind turbines.

This kind of innovation will play a role in helping the West Midlands reach its carbon neutrality target of 2041, but we want to be able to act quickly and back it with investment, to maximise its potential. Again, we need funding to do this.

Where could this cash come from? Well, one potential solution is by allowing local leaders to retain energy levies. Consumers already pay levies – so it would come at no extra cost to them – but Government could decide to have these funds retained locally rather than centrally.

By spending that locally-collected money locally, we could re-invest it in lower carbon energy solutions, supporting untapped local innovation. It could also provide a key link between energy providers and users to ensure energy is being provided where it is most needed.

With today’s summit, local leaders from across the UK and the world will come together in the West Midlands, the place where the Industrial revolution began, to discuss the green industrial revolution which is just beginning.

Here in the UK, the Government has set out ambitious targets to achieve net zero by 2050, and we want the West Midlands to play its part in that by meeting our net zero target by 2041.

We are already delivering practical change – from decarbonised transport and energy system solutions, to state-of-the-art battery technology and zero-carbon building techniques.

But as the communique signed by the delegates at the summit today emphasises, a devolved energy model could empower the UK’s regions to do so much more.

Andy Street: Devolving more spending power can provide the skills we need to drive the recovery

29 Jun

Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.

The pandemic has been hard on the West Midlands, both in terms of the terrible personal cost to local people and the impact it has had on our economy. Now, as we face the challenges created by Covid, how we equip residents with new skills will be a key element of our recovery.

We are ambitious. I want to generate 100,000 new jobs in just two years here, which would represent the biggest surge in employment growth ever seen in the region. How? By building on growth in sectors like construction and digital, by getting the most out of opportunities like HS2 and the Commonwealth Games, and by seizing the chance to become leaders in emerging fields like the green economy.

To make this happen training will be critical. The region’s young population, its excellent connectivity and strengths in key sectors all provide the ingredients for growth – but to succeed we must have the right skills.

I want to use this column to explain how regional control over adult education is already helping to deliver significant results in skills – and how I believe that success provides a compelling argument for further devolution of spending power.

For many years, the West Midlands suffered from a significant skills gap, with far too many of our residents having no recognisable qualification. Now, things are changing.

Latest figures show that, in 2020, the number of people with NVQ Level 3+ qualifications across the seven boroughs of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) area increased by 120,000 to 1,444,000. At the same time, the number of people with no qualifications reduced by 66,700 to 223,800 in the same period – a remarkable decrease of 23 per cent.

The close working relationship between the WMCA and our many excellent colleges has helped us achieve this – along with the devolution of adult education spending, which has put decision making into local hands.

For two years, the WMCA has had devolved control of the region’s £130 million adult education budget – funding further education providers and working with them to equip local people with the skills actually needed by employers. As a result, tens of thousands of residents are benefiting from valuable qualifications, and businesses are seeing colleges launch courses which will have a real-world impact on the employment market.

Crucially, the West Midlands also boasts a unique collaboration of all colleges across the region, which has helped deliver results. One example of this united approach is Reignite Your Future, a regional skills recovery programme organised by sector-based academies that provides free training courses, creating thousands of opportunities to retrain in direct response to the pandemic.

We know there are jobs in sectors including construction, digital, and health and social care – but local people need the right skills to land these opportunities. Devolved adult education funding means we’re able to help equip residents with the skills needed to do exactly that.

This is not rocket science – it’s a simple question of having the local knowledge to understand where employment demand will be, and then having the spending control to invest in the skills training required.

A great example of this is the huge retro-fitting programme that is going to be needed to make nearly 300,000 homes across the region more energy efficient. This retrofitting would target older homes that have low energy efficiency, which causes households to pay far too much on their energy bills. Work would include insulating walls and double or triple glazing windows.

We are already working with Dudley College on a national pilot scheme to train skilled people to do retrofit jobs, ensuring there is a supply of appropriate people for small businesses setting up in these new arenas.

Also in Dudley, the Institute of Technology will be among the first to start providing T Levels in subjects like digital production, design, surveying and planning from September, all of which are sectors that are expected to provide employment opportunities over the next decade.

Similarly, as our automotive sector continues its switch to electrification, we are beginning to train people to become the mechanics of the future, with the skills needed to keep electric vehicles on the road. The Light Electric and Alternative Fuel (LEAF) Vehicle Training Centre at Walsall College enhances the skills of experienced mechanics and technicians, responding to employers’ needs and helping get local people into good quality jobs.

All of this is being backed up by capital investment to ensure college facilities are equipped to deliver new skills. The creation of the new Institute of Technology in the Black Country has progressed throughout the pandemic, while a bid for £25 million from the Government will help finance a £36 million Higher Education “university park” complex, again at Dudley College. It will provide higher education courses for the health sector and is anticipated to be up and running by Autumn 2024.

Construction is another sector predicted to see significant growth across the region, with recent research suggesting businesses will need to recruit an additional 25,000 new workers by 2025 just to meet demand.

The City of Wolverhampton College recently opened a purpose-built plant training facility, backed by the WMCA, offering high-quality sector-specific training to people of all ages and abilities, from beginner to advanced level.

And the 17.5 million National Brownfield Institute in Wolverhampton will develop land reclamation technology that will provide even more construction opportunities going forward.

Finally, the WMCA is working with colleges and training providers to pioneer ways to deliver digital training, most notably highly-successful Digital Bootcamps that give residents the skillset to deal with the challenge of growing automation. In a great example of localised, targeted delivery, a £5 million Digital Retraining fund was created to train up to 1,900 people over three years. Now there is a clear need for further national agreed funding to be devolved to build on this activity.

In the two years since the WMCA was handed control of the adult education budget, we have seen local decision making and collaborative working make a real difference to the employment prospects of residents.

The figures speak for themselves and are the result of local colleges, employers and business organisations working together to identify what skills will be needed going forward. As we build back better from the pandemic, there is a compelling argument that we should look to expand upon this winning approach.

In my re-election manifesto, I spoke about the need to devolve all 16-18 further education funding to the West Midlands, so that we can ensure that it is aligned with the successful approach we are taking with adult education. I believe it’s now time to consider this next step, to give even more local people the skills they will need to prosper.

Andy Street: The Commonwealth Games will showcase the best of the West Midlands to the world

15 Jun

Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.

Over the last 18 months, it seems we have been constantly looking forward to better times – to the easing of restrictions, for the roll-out of vaccines, to the reopening of businesses, to see our loved ones. Well, in the West Midlands we have something huge to look forward to next year: the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

As the growing excitement over this summer’s European football championships has shown, nothing lifts the spirits and unites people quite like a major sporting event, and in 2022 our region will host one of the world’s biggest, with a global audience of over one billion. At the Games, more than 6,500 athletes carrying the hopes of 71 countries will compete in 264 events across 18 sports.

Together with the Coventry City of Culture celebrations, which are now underway, the Games will provide a cultural kickstart after the restrictions of the pandemic, boosting the economy and bringing people together to celebrate not only top level sport, but all that is good about our region. This is an incredible opportunity for residents across the West Midlands, and in particular young people, to get involved in a global event, right on their doorstep. Its timing couldn’t be better.

I want to use this column to write about the legacy the Games will leave, not only in terms of new facilities but opportunity.

Key to that will be the “Commonwealth Collective”: 13000 volunteers who will be the public faces of Birmingham 2022 and represent the heart and soul of the event experience for athletes, officials, spectators.

The search to find these volunteers has now begun in earnest. We want to create a dedicated and dynamic group that will reflect the diversity of the West Midlands as well as the modern Commonwealth, putting in an incredible one million hours of volunteer time.

The Games is by far the largest sporting and cultural event ever to be held in the region and the biggest in the UK since the London Olympics. Many remember the ‘Games Makers’ who made London 2012 such a friendly, welcoming experience. The Commonwealth Collective takes that concept and puts an innovative West Midlands spin on it, turning volunteering skills into opportunity.

So, what will the volunteers do? Roles include those all-important ‘meet and greeters’, drivers, first aiders, people to prepare venues, kit carriers, courtside assistants, and everything in between to help the Games run smoothly and create a unique experience right across the region.

The majority of roles don’t need any formal experience or qualifications, because there will be around 250,000 hours of training provided, and volunteers can select preferred areas of interest which include event services, accreditation, transport, sport and media.

While much is made of the physical legacy of large sports events – stadiums, new facilities and transport infrastructure – in the wake of the pandemic we are also determined to ensure that the Games boost skills for everyone involved, young and old. So, while volunteer applicants must be aged 18, a young volunteer programme for 14-17 year olds will begin recruitment in the autumn too. Critically, everyone who volunteers will gain key skills to help with future job prospects.

We are also, of course, using the Games to provide extensive employment opportunities alongside the volunteering roles, with the aim of creating 35,000 jobs.

The Legacy plan set out for the Games earlier this year shows how this will be done. It aims to deliver the first carbon-neutral Commonwealth Games and the largest business and tourism programme of any Games to attract international visitors and investment to the region and the UK.

A major International Business Expo is expected to run alongside the Games, highlighting and promoting commerce in the region and sending out the clear message that Britain is open for business post-pandemic. Our ambition is not only an unparalleled programme of sport but also trade, tourism and investment.

In terms of bricks and mortar, there are the state-of-the-art legacy facilities at the Alexander Stadium and Sandwell Aquatics Centre for community use after the Games. The first phase of the Perry Barr Regeneration Scheme will deliver 1,400 homes, with hundreds more in future phases. Around £350m of procurement spend will benefit businesses across the UK, with the first Commonwealth Jobs and Skills Academy offering a blueprint for reaching disadvantaged groups.

There is also Commonwealth Active Communities, a £4m Sport England fund to harness the power of the Games to support inactive people to become more active and a six-month, UK-wide cultural festival reaching 2.5 million people and prioritising underrepresented communities. Finally, a £6m Commonwealth Games Community Fund from Birmingham City Council will help communities build pride, respect and cohesion by celebrating the Games.

But if the Games is to have a lost-lasting legacy beyond new facilities, it must reach out to  future generations.

So, hundreds of young people will also gain access to new volunteering and employment opportunities, thanks to more than £700,000 from the National Lottery Community Fund. The project will seek to engage with a minimum of 800 disadvantaged young people, working with 20 community-based organisations working close to Games venues in Birmingham, Coventry, Sandwell and Wolverhampton.

The outreach activity will support local young people aged 18 to 30 who are unemployed or at risk of unemployment, and will particularly target those who live in priority wards.

Making sure that the jobs created by the Games go to local people is a key part of my jobs plan to help more than 100,000 residents into employment over the next two years, and is also critical to ensuring the Commonwealth Games is a Games for everyone.

This hugely exciting event is now a little over a year away, and across Birmingham and the West Midlands preparations are being stepped up. I know that the Games will deliver a message of hope and recovery after the pandemic and create wonderful memories for local people of a once-in-a-lifetime global event. They will also leave behind brilliant new facilities that will benefit generations to come.

But as we look to grow the economy post-pandemic, I also believe this Games will have another significant legacy – a legacy of opportunity, through the jobs it creates and its engagement with business. And, of course, through the new skills learned by the 13000 volunteers who will help make it happen.

The benefits of Birmingham 2022 will be felt long after the closing ceremony. That’s something we can all really look forward to.

Andy Street: Birmingham’s clean air zones will come down unfairly hard on local people. The scheme needs an urgent rethink.

1 Jun

Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.

As West Midlands Mayor, I have made it my mission to drive improvements in the region’s public transport system, from trains and trams to buses and bikes.

The progress we have seen in recent years is helping to connect people to new opportunities, driving economic growth and is playing a major part in tackling the climate challenge – by persuading people to make fewer car journeys, and easing congestion on the roads.

However, while public transport is a core part of my job responsibility, control of those local roads continues to sit with our councils. Today marks the start of one of the most significant changes to the region’s road network, affecting Birmingham city centre.

Birmingham City Council today introduces its “clean air zone” charging scheme, which will charge motorists of “non-compliant” vehicles £8 a day to enter the city centre.

First of all, I think it is important to say that I support the principle behind the clean air zone idea. Birmingham is one of five cities required by the Government to set up a clean air zone, as part of plans to tackle illegal levels of pollution across the country.

There is no doubt that the city centre does suffer serious pollution at peak traffic times and that action needs to be taken. Pollution levels can be unacceptably high, putting people’s health and wellbeing at risk.

In 2019, a study carried out by Kings College London found that primary school children who grow up in Birmingham could lose half a year of their lives due to illegal levels of air pollution. The loss of life expectancy is worse in Birmingham than some other major cities in the UK including Manchester, researchers found.

Nobody wants to live in a congested and polluted city centre – the West Midlands might be the home of the car, but we also need to ensure people have a viable alternative to using it.

However, I do have serious concerns about the scheme in Birmingham. There is no doubt that the council’s charging scheme is a heavy stick which will come down hard – with a big increase in the cost of living for those affected.

The first question we must ask is: is it coming down unfairly hard? I fear it is. Let me outline some of my concerns.

The charges apply to older vehicles, which are more likely to cause pollution. However, there is a strong argument that, as a result, the scheme targets those least able to pay – people most likely to have older vehicles and least able to replace them.

I have real concerns that not enough has been done to mitigate the effects of the scheme on those who can least afford it.

Then there is the fact that it will operate 24 hours per day, seven days per week. There is a strong argument that, again, this is unfair. The fact is that pollution isn’t constant around the clock and hitting night workers with this extra charge when the roads are empty doesn’t appear to be helping the environment.

Then there is the question of timing. The clean air zone will hit a whole swathe of city centre small businesses who have already had an exceptionally tough year and are only just beginning to grasp what the future may hold post-Covid.

The entire spectrum of city centre businesses – from office workers to cleaners, from sandwich shops to taxi drivers, are in the process of getting back on their feet as the economy reopens.

Why not delay the scheme until we are fully out of lockdown and fully returning to work?

Finally, there is the question of what will be done with the income created by the clean air zone. This is a hugely significant step towards creating a cleaner transport system for the city, which has been driven by genuine health concerns. I believe a real chance has been missed to commit every penny of profit made from the scheme to additional transport improvements.

These are just some of the concerns that have been raised, coupled with questions about why more isn’t being done to clean the air in the city centre – such as through “greening” technology along the roadside.

If we want people to use their cars less, we have to provide a suitable alternative. I continue to be a passionate believer that the only way to tackle congestion and gridlock on our roads is to transform public transport.

That’s what my transport plan is all about. In my first term as mayor we increased investment in transport sevenfold, thanks to Government backing. Many of those projects are now well underway, and in the month or so since my re-election we have made more progress on the plan.

On rail, the ugly and unsatisfactory Perry Barr station has now been demolished and will be the next brand-new station in our region, joining the conveyor belt of completely new or replacement stations being built. It will be the station for the Commonwealth Games – underlining how the Games investment will deliver long term benefits to the region.

On our metro tram system, this week we start work in earnest on the latest new line – linking Birmingham city centre with HS2 and providing brilliant public transport through Digbeth, helping to drive the immense investment and regeneration happening in an area known for its creative quarter.

The investment being delivered by HS2 is game changing in economic terms, and we are determined to make the most of it. The construction of the new Curzon Street station, for instance, will provide almost 1,000 new jobs.

Work on the metro across the region continues at pace – just a couple of weeks ago the first new bridge was put in place as part of the massive Black Country metro expansion and the first of our brand-new trams arrived to serve the growing network.

And in the last few weeks we have seen the region’s bike share scheme continue to be rolled out, with Birmingham joining a swathe of other communities like Sutton Coldfield, Coventry, Solihull, Wolverhampton and Walsall – plus of course Stourbridge where the Prime Minister was one of the early users.

But transport is not just about public sector investment. It is also about working with the private sector to improve choice and bring in its huge resources. Later this month bus service provider National Express is going to introduce a raft of significant fare cuts across its services – aligning with the end of lockdown. It will now be substantially cheaper to use the bus than it has been for years.

And not just cheaper, better. National Express continue to invest in its fleet, including its modern platinum buses which are cleaner, greener and more comfortable for passengers. On top of that, the region is seeing the ongoing rollout of emission-free electric and hydrogen buses.

Finally, on rail the all-important Cross-City line will be transformed with new electric trains, increasing capacity and improving the travelling experience for everyone.

The introduction today of a clean air zone in Birmingham has been hotly debated. While I support the principle behind the concept, I also understand the serious misgivings of those who fear they will be unfairly impacted by this attempt to reduce the number of local car journeys.

Ultimately, punitive charges like this can only be a small part of the solution to the transport challenge we face. The key is providing viable, attractive alternatives to the private car that people positively choose as their preference. The carrot, not the stick.

My transport plan is delivering those alternatives, as well as helping to kick start our region’s economy as we come out of the pandemic.

Andy Street: Community ownership can help secure a future for our pubs

18 May

Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.

Since I was re-elected as Mayor of the West Midlands just over a week ago, my diary has been full – and rightly so. There is much to be done.

Throughout the campaign, my message was always that I was ready to get straight back to work – to start the task of creating 100,000 jobs in the next two years, attracting new investment, and pressing on with our transport and housing plans. Thanks to detailed planning, we were ready to hit the ground running.

This week represents a major step towards recovery, as lockdown restrictions are eased further. For the owners of restaurants, cafes, gyms, fitness clubs, wedding venues, holiday lets, hotels, B&Bs and many other types of business this will be a big few days.

In this column, I want to focus on the sector whose fortunes have in some ways come to be seen as a barometer of recovery – pubs.

Pubs are, quite simply, part of the fabric of British life. That’s why, I believe, my visit to a Wolverhampton pub while on the campaign trail with the Prime Minister last month gathered so much interest. For many, the simple act of being able to go out for a pint has become shorthand for a return to normality.

I want to tell you about a scheme launched here to help protect local pubs, and also how I believe it reflects broader changes across society regarding much-loved community assets, and how the growing social economy can protect them.

The pandemic has had a brutal effect on our pubs. The facts are stark: over 2,500 pubs across the UK closed down in 2020 – an increase of 50 per cent on the previous year, and a figure which represents five per cent of all pubs in the country. While venues lucky enough to have outdoor space have been able to safely serve some customers since mid-April, this week’s easing of indoor restrictions has been long awaited.

Throughout the pandemic, I have battled for extra help for the hospitality industry, but the cruel reality is that at the time when we are most looking forward to visiting pubs again, there will be less of them to return to.

Of course, many pubs will make a strong recovery once lockdown is lifted, but some inevitably will not. That’s why we have launched a scheme to give people the chance to save those pubs by bringing them into community ownership.

The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has partnered with Plunkett Foundation, a community business charity, to help community groups establish action plans, build capacity, and raise the finance to take ownership of local pubs. The statistics show that it works, too. Community-owned pubs have a 99.3 per cent long-term survival rate.

An initial £10,000 investment will enable the Plunkett Foundation to support seven community pub groups – one from each of the boroughs that make up the WMCA. Those groups will get tailored business support and advice, online training, peer-to-peer networking and the chance to visit some of the 150 existing community-run pubs in the UK.

Crucially, saving these pubs will also help address issues of isolation, loneliness, wellbeing, work, and training as well as protecting much-loved community businesses and buildings.

But I also believe that this new scheme reflects a broader change across society, where communities are stepping forward to take responsibility for local assets they value.

Sometimes the people involved are volunteers who simply want to ensure that a cherished building looks at its best, sometimes they are organised groups with serious business plans to revitalise services and create jobs. The common factor is that communities across the West Midlands are realising they can help retain much-loved buildings and boost local civic pride.

There are all lots of examples. In Solihull, a group of dedicated volunteers looks after the town’s main railway station. In Sutton Coldfield, the Royal Town’s historic Town Hall has been transferred from Birmingham City Council to a locally-run Trust, who are bidding for funds to give it a new lease of life. In Erdington, a community association is putting together an ambitious funding bid to turn a boarded-up Victorian baths into a community hub. A determined community Trust is campaigning to turn Harborne’s old Royalty Cinema into a mixed-use commercial and community facility too.

The Government also recognises the huge potential of community ownership, with the £150 million Community Ownership Fund set to open in June.

All of this suggests that community spirit is alive and well. As the UK emerges from the pandemic, I believe we will need that social cohesion more than ever. And that means a crucial yet often overlooked part of local life, the Social Economy, will play a vital role in our recovery.

In 2019 I launched the Social Economy Taskforce with the ambition to double the size of the region’s Social Economy within ten years. As a sign of our belief in its importance, the WMCA has pledged to spend at least five per cent of its procurement budget on social enterprises, while we are also urging local businesses to consider them when buying goods or services.

Our new scheme to bring pubs into community ownership adds another important part to a tapestry of social enterprises, charities and organisations that often form the social safety net needed to support those impacted by the tough times we are living in.

If there has been one positive thing to come out of the pandemic, it has been the renewed sense of community spirit born of adversity. As they open their doors this week, publicans will be hoping to see that reflected by ringing tills. By including pubs in the burgeoning Social Economy, we will ensure more can keep their doors open – and we can all raise a glass to that.

Andy Street: I’ve got a clear plan for the West Midlands, and I’m ready to go. Here’s what I’ll do in my first 100 days if re-elected.

4 May

Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.

On Thursday, when the people of the West Midlands go to the polls, they face a critical decision. Do they choose to reignite the progress of the last four years, or return to the stagnant, partisan politics of the last few decades, which saw our region fall into decline?

Before the pandemic struck, the West Midlands was finally shaking off that decline and reclaiming its place as an economic powerhouse. After decades of inertia, a Conservative mayor brought record numbers of new jobs, record house building, increased transport spending sevenfold and created the fastest growing economy anywhere outside of London.

My non-partisan approach – using my business background to bring in more than £3 billion in investment – swept away the local rivalries that had held us back for so long. As we face a tough recovery post-Covid, we cannot afford to return to that. Time is of the essence.

We need to move fast to get people back into work, help the economy recover, and make swift progress on our priorities like transport and housing. I’ve got a clear plan for the region, and I’m ready to go. I want to use this column to set out 12 things I will do in my first 100 days if re-elected.

Over the last four years, my working relationship with Number 10 and the rest of government has been a key factor in delivering investment, with securing the green light for HS2 probably the best example of success. My first task, once re-elected, would be to meet the Prime Minister to discuss how the Government can help deliver our priorities in the West Midlands.

Our region’s economy has been the worst hit by Covid, but is poised for recovery. Generating new jobs quickly will be key to this, so in my first 100 days I will double down on my Jobs Plan to deliver 100,000 new jobs to the region in the next two years. I will also roll out a series of local jobs, training and careers fairs for young people across the West Midlands over this summer.

I will back our pubs, restaurants and hospitality and tourism businesses with a campaign encouraging people to get out and spend after the pandemic – and set up an investment fund to help SMEs grow. I will also use my business experience to connect with potential investors into the battery Gigafactory in Coventry and possible new occupiers for the John Lewis store in Grand Central.

It will be full steam ahead on my transport plans, with detailed planning being done for the new Metro lines. Next Monday – on May 10 – work will start on Perry Barr railway station, with five more stations to follow quickly. I will complete the roll-out of 1500 bikes across every borough in our bike share scheme and begin detailed planning of new cycle routes.

We also need to encourage people back onto public transport as Covid restrictions ease. I will work with National Express to make the most of the major fare cuts and expanded fare capping planned for June 21, when social distancing restrictions should end. My first 100 days will get our region get moving again.

Housing has been another area where we have seen great success, and it has the potential not only to create the homes our region needs but also to unlock thousands of new jobs. London has agreed an Affordable Housing Deal with the Government worth hundreds of millions of pounds – I will push for our region to be the first to get one too, to fund the construction of thousands of new affordable homes to rent and to buy.

I want to see our City and Town centre regeneration plans rapidly progress, and will back our remaining towns fund bids like Bloxwich, Dudley and Walsall.

I will recruit 1,000 volunteers to take part in the Great West Midlands Clean Up campaign ahead of the Commonwealth Games. In my first 100 days will also put the West Midlands at the heart of the climate debate by hosting a conference for mayors and city leaders from across the UK, to agree ways we can work together to affect change.

We have taken significant steps to tackle rough sleeping, but in my first 100 days we will work even harder to eradicate it by “designing out” homelessness. We will launch a new Equalities Taskforce, to address the inequalities highlighted in the Health of the Region report commissioned under my leadership.

Finally, I will stand shoulder to shoulder with the new Police and Crime Commissioner to make things happen to get crime down, such as on public transport and through the joint Violence Reduction Unit.

Setting out all of this in the first 100 days after the election may seem like rhetoric, but I know just how much can be achieved directly after taking office. During the campaign for the first mayoral election in 2017 I set out 10 pledges for my first 100 days, all of which were delivered. In fact, when I think back to four years ago, I hit the ground running – attracting huge investment and cementing key decisions which lay the foundations for our future success.

In the few weeks after taking office in 2017, I met the Prime Minister and Transport Secretary, leading to more than £250 million funding for the Wednesbury to Brierley Hill Metro extension which is now under construction. I set up the West Midlands Homelessness Taskforce which led the work in reducing rough sleeping in the region by 67 per cent, with over 400 homeless people now helped through the Housing First scheme. And I signed up 1,000 people to mentor young people, in a scheme which has helped over 10,000 young people in the last four years.

Now, it is even more important that results are delivered quickly. Our region faces huge challenges. However, I have a proven track record of bringing in billions of pounds in investment and uniting our region to unleash its potential. I have a strong, working relationship with the Government and the connections with business needed to kickstart the economy. I also have a detailed, ambitious but practical plan to deliver the jobs, homes and transport we will need to recover. It is ready to go.

I am ready to get straight to work, to get our region back on track, reignite the progress made over the last four years – and start delivering results within the first 100 days.

Andy Street: Ahead of the local elections, I want to pay tribute to the dedicated team working to win the support of the West Midlands

20 Apr

Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.

In just over two weeks, the people of the West Midlands will head to socially-distanced polling booths, clutching their own pencils, to have their say in crucial local elections – the results of which will shape how our region recovers from the pandemic.

Of course, in the UK region that has taken the hardest economic hit from Covid-19, the mayoral election is critically important. However, I am very conscious that I am only one of 141 Conservative candidates campaigning in these elections.

I want to dedicate this column to those candidates and the army of dedicated volunteers driving their campaigns – it’s a vast, region-wide team working to win the confidence and support of the people of the West Midlands in a bumper crop of local elections.

First, there is the election for Police and Crime Commissioner, a major job with a big budget of £655 million. This is a hugely important election for our region. The role has significant powers, and we need a new, strong and effective commissioner to tackle the problems of crime and anti-social behaviour in our region. Labour has held this office for 8½ years and its record is poor.

Only this week the British Crime Survey, which is carried out by the Office for National Statistics each year, found West Midlands police to be the lowest-rated force in England and Wales. The survey found 65 per cent of people in the West Midlands force area said they had confidence in the police – lower than in any other part of the country.

There’s no doubt that a significant part of this disengagement with residents has been caused by the Labour policy of shutting police stations. We have seen 44 police stations closed and plans remain in place to shut many more – including Sutton Coldfield, Solihull, Aldridge, Tipton and Wednesfield.

It’s important we have a commissioner who will stop these closures and focus on working effectively with government to get the extra police numbers we need, and we have a fantastic candidate who will do just that.

Jay Singh-Sohal is a local family man, brought up in Handsworth. A serving officer in the British Army Reserves, Jay has a proven record of public service, but just like me four years ago this is his first election campaign. And just like me, he is driven by his passion for our region and determination to make a positive difference to the lives of his fellow citizens. Having Jay as Commissioner is crucial to getting crime down in the West Midlands – and ensuring that resources are fairly allocated to the wider region – not just central Birmingham.

Second, there are crucial council elections across the West Midlands. In Dudley, Solihull and Walsall – the boroughs run by Conservative councils – we have a brilliant story to tell.

In Dudley, we can point to the truly staggering level of investment, from the metro extension to the new Institute of Technology, and from the Very Light Rail Innovation Centre to the new leisure centre and Portersfield town centre redevelopment. The council has also won £10 million for Brierley Hill town centre and is leading a tenacious defence of the Green Belt around the borough.

In Walsall, there is tangible progress, as the borough powers ahead with brownfield development for homes and jobs – perhaps most excitingly at the vast “Phoenix 10” development which is turning one of the most polluted, derelict sites in the country into a new business park to create over 1,000 jobs.

One of the hallmarks of the urban Conservatism we have developed here in the region is to ensure that all communities benefit from incoming investment, and Walsall is working on a whole raft of plans to support regeneration in every town across the borough.

Walsall has also led the way with Housing First, our pioneering scheme which is now accommodating 400 rough sleepers region-wide – seeing a 75 per cent reduction in rough sleeping in two years.

In Solihull, the borough is leading the way on the environment – like its commitment to plant 250,000 trees in 10 years, in a visionary idea described as a new Forest of Arden, and the “wildlife ways” project which has planted thousands of wildflowers and trees across the area.

Solihull town centre, long considered one of the region’s prime retail destinations and an economic dynamo for the region, is being reimagined by a masterplan which will introduce new homes and leisure services, while neighbouring village Kinghurst is set to get a revitalised village centre too.

I have been pleased to work on all of these projects and many more with our councils, underlining how teamwork can deliver on the ground. Perhaps the most tangible evidence of this is our expanding transport network, with new train stations and metro stops at various stages of development. In the next few weeks, these councils will also see the roll-out our bikeshare scheme.

We also have a great team of councillors and campaigners up for election in Coventry, Sandwell, Wolverhampton and by-elections in Birmingham. In each of these boroughs we have a great story to tell about how Conservatives have made a difference.

Coventrians are seeing unprecedented investment in their city – including becoming the first all-electric bus city in the country, city centre investment, a new central station, and support for this year’s City of Culture festivities. Conservative councillors are also making a tenacious defence of the Green Belt in a move that is chiming with concerned residents’ groups across the city.

In Sandwell, we are looking to make a breakthrough into what has been a wholly Labour borough. We can point to how things are changing since we saw Conservatives elected in all but one of Sandwell’s Westminster seats – not least the millions for town centre regeneration in places like Rowley Regis and West Bromwich, plus our own local support for the Metro extension from Wednesbury past Tipton.

In Wolverhampton, again our story is one of making a real change – millions in funding for city and town centre regeneration, a brand-new central railway station and turning the city into the national leader in brownfield regeneration.

Finally, in Birmingham we have great local candidates fighting for their communities and to strengthen the existing strong team on the City Council. It’s easy to forget how rare it is for a major English city to have a large Conservative team of councillors – let alone one that next year can be looking to win control of the council. Within the city’s borders, we have a town council byelection in Sutton Coldfield – again where we have a great story to tell with the town council leading the way on its town centre masterplan to guarantee the Royal Town’s future success.

All of this activity and progress means West Midlands Conservatives are working towards the elections next month with confidence in their candidates and the message they bring.

I have said before that I believe the first breaches in the “Red Wall” were made here in the West Midlands, and I am certain that progress was the result of a unified approach by Conservatives across the conurbation. We fight as one team.

We are also determined to fight a fair and responsible election – that’s why this week I voiced our support for the Jo Cox Foundation’s call for respectful campaigning.

We know that by working together we can achieve much, much more for our communities and that’s what drives all of us to stand as candidates, and what drives the volunteers who give their time, money and effort day in, day out to get the message out there.

They support us as candidates because they believe in what we are trying to do and care about the future of their village, town, city and region. It is humbling to see the voluntary effort that’s going into this campaign across the region by so many people. It is urban Conservatism in action.

It is a privilege to be part of this team and I am hugely proud of the positive and inclusive campaign we are running.

Andy Street: My plan to get the West Midlands back on track and unleash our potential

6 Apr

Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.

In just over a month’s time, the people of the West Midlands go to the polls facing a critical choice.

Over the last four years, the West Midlands began to reclaim its rightful place as an economically successful region, after decades of stagnation and relative decline. Then Covid struck. Now there is much to do to ensure we don’t throw away those years of progress.

The choice facing voters on May 6 is simple: do we accelerate the progress of the last four years, or do we go back to the old failing approach which let down our region for decades?

Today I launch my plan setting out how I intend to get the West Midlands back on track and unleash our potential. I want to use this column to outline its key aims, which are both ambitious and practical.

The strides made by this region since I was elected Mayor on May 4 2017 are borne out by the facts. More than 97,000 new jobs were created in the region overall in the three years before the pandemic, the most of any region outside London. The level of transport investment this year was seven times higher than the year before I became Mayor.

A record-breaking 48,098 homes were built here from 2017-2020, nearly double the 25,000 target set in 2017. Rough sleeping is down 65 per cent since 2017, with 377 homeless people helped through our Housing First scheme. Over £3 billion of new funding was brought in from Government, with no Mayoral precept added to council tax bills.

On top of that, we won backing for Coventry City of Culture, Birmingham Commonwealth Games 2022, the West Midlands 5G testbed, and High Speed 2 to bring investment and jobs.

However, the West Midlands has been hit hard by Coronavirus – and we must act quickly to get back on track. Sectors like retail, hospitality and manufacturing have seen thousands of workers laid off or furloughed.

That’s why my first priority will be to create more than 100,000 new good quality local jobs and training opportunities for local people.

That means securing an electric battery Gigafactory for our region, bringing 4,000 new jobs and protecting thousands more in the automotive industry and supply chain. It means winning every possible contract for local businesses from major regional projects like HS2, the Commonwealth Games and Coventry City of Culture.

I want our region to become the national leader in construction, engineering, life sciences, technology, 5G and other growing industries. And we have already seen announcements to move hundreds of well-paid civil service jobs out of London and into the West Midlands, starting in Wolverhampton and Birmingham – creating local jobs opportunities and boosting the economy.

I have plans to double transport spending. My vision is to build new metro stops across the region, as well as reopening five rail stations in the next three years, while making progress on eighteen other new stations.

Transport will play a key part in my green ambitions too: with plans for a major programme of cycle routes, while the full roll-out of our version of Boris Bikes has already begun.

On the buses, we’ll build on the success of the four-year bus fare freeze, and roll out more hydrogen and electric buses including making Coventry’s fleet all-electric.

On housing, I will build thousands of new homes where they are wanted. That means continuing to drive our successful “brownfield first” approach, with over £400 million of funding to reclaim derelict sites, protecting our Green Belt and green spaces.

Affordable homes are a key component of the plan: I will seek an ambitious Affordable Housing Deal to bring new cash to the region and pioneer our own “Help to Own” scheme to make home owning possible for more people. We will also continue our progress on reducing the numbers of rough sleepers.

On the environment, I will launch a huge programme to retrofit people’s homes with energy efficiency measures to reduce fuel bills and carbon emissions, while investing in nature, from replanting trees to creating a new National Trail for walkers around the Green Belt of the West Midlands. I will work with Government to fund for more initiatives like the Black Country zero carbon hub, to help industry move to green technology.

I will use a business-like approach to tackle the challenges facing the high street. Our town centres have already won over £100 million of Government funding, benefitting places like Brierley Hill, Rowley Regis, Smethwick, West Bromwich, Walsall and Wolverhampton.

City centres like Coventry, town centres like Dudley and village centres like Kingshurst will all benefit from our own major regional investment plan.

I’m backing bids to regenerate iconic local sites like the historic swimming baths in Erdington, the Royalty Cinema in Harborne and Saddlers Quay in Walsall to become community and enterprise hubs, and where distinct areas such as Solihull and Sutton Coldfield have developed their own town centre masterplans, I will use the power of the Mayor’s office to help make their visions become reality.

The heart of my approach as Mayor has been to ensure that every community benefits from the region’s success – localised “levelling up”. That means maximising the benefits of Coventry City of Culture in 2021, the Birmingham Commonwealth Games in 2022 and High Speed 2, with jobs for local people and investment across the region.

It means supporting those who need extra help, for example “designing out” homelessness by addressing its causes. A new Equalities Taskforce will ensure the West Midlands is a great place to live, work and grow up for all our communities. I will work with the Conservative candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner to make our communities safer and get crime down, particularly on the transport network, while providing opportunities for young people so they don’t get drawn into crime.

These are just some of the ambitious plans I am putting to the people of the West Midlands today, as we face a turning point in our region’s story. On May 6, voters in the West Midlands face a choice that will define the future direction of our region.

My message is simple: I have a credible delivery plan to make all of this happen, and a proven track record over the last four years, beating our targets and other city-regions on investment, skills and housing.

My commitment is to secure £10 billion of new investment into the region, from both the Government and private investors, with a clear approach to the Mayor’s role as a regional champion. That means working with Government to make things happen, rather than criticising and grabbing headlines, and then being ignored.

When I was elected the West Midlands’ first mayor, nobody knew what could be achieved by devolution. I am proud of the progress we made in the first four years, but I’m also acutely aware that, as we rebuild after Covid, there is so much more to be done.

This is the region where I grew up. Its values shaped me as a person – that’s why four years ago I decided to stand to be Mayor. Before the pandemic hit, the renewal of the West Midlands was tangible. Today I unveil my plan for the next three years, and I urge the people of the West Midlands to choose me – to get on with the job, get this region back on track and unleash our potential.

Andy Street: The BBC’s Birmingham plans represent a cultural “levelling up” this country needs

23 Mar

Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.

This weekend Line of Duty, one of the BBC’s most successful shows, returned to our screens for its highly anticipated fifth series. The hit crime drama is one of a number of major TV productions made in Northern Ireland, making a significant contribution the local economy there.

However, few people know that the first series of this hit show – the one that established it as a fans’ favourite – was made in Birmingham, with filming taking place across the West Midlands.

In fact, Line of Duty was created by West Midlands-born Jed Mercurio, who lived for several years in Birmingham where he worked as a doctor in local hospitals.

I don’t know why production of the show moved away from Birmingham, but its move was certainly emblematic of a shortfall in investment by the BBC here, resulting not only in an economic imbalance but also in a lack of representation of West Midlands life on national TV schedules.

Now, all this is changing – with a landmark announcement this week from the BBC and significant plans for independent production studios in Birmingham, following years of lobbying by myself, and huge combined efforts by our talented creative industry. In TV parlance, we are “ready for our close up”.

I believe the announcement by the Beeb represents a kind of cultural “levelling up” – and follows the announcement that the Department for Transport is to move to Brum and the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government to Wolverhampton. All of these moves are crucial to the ongoing success of devolution, as they ensure opinion formers and decision makers, whether in the media or the Government, understand and engage with life outside the capital. But this has been a long time in the making.

For decades, Birmingham boasted one of the biggest BBC centres in the country – Pebble Mill – which was home to the Archers, Top Gear, The Clothes Show, Countryfile, Gardeners’ World and the daily magazine show Pebble Mill at One. Its studios were used to film All Creatures Great and Small, Boys from the Blackstuff, Doctors, Dangerfield, Howards’ Way, Juliet Bravo, Dalziel and Pascoe and more.

After the BBC closed the famous studios in 2004, its presence in the region shrank to a shadow of its former self. By 2011, the Corporation had opened its huge base at Salford’s MediaCity, in Greater Manchester – where it employs more than 3,000 people.

This, for me, was another symbol of how our region was being left behind other parts of the country. It wasn’t just about the loss of jobs and investment, critical though that was, it also meant that talent from our region would be forced to move elsewhere.

It also showed a major national institution turning away from us, and not just any institution – the BBC isn’t like any other business. It is one we all pay for through our licence fee and it was clear that West Midlands people were getting a poor return on the money they were contributing to BBC coffers.

Four years ago, the BBC’s annual report revealed the Corporation spent just 1.5 per cent of its programming budget in the Midlands, down from 1.8 per cent the year previously. It meant that while licence fee payers in the wider Midlands region were paying £961 million a year, the broadcaster was spending just £135 million a year here, while pumping money into London and the North. Quite simply, the BBC was investing less in the Midlands than any other part of the country.

And it’s not just about money – it’s about representation. Think about this: how many TV shows can you name that are set in the Midlands? TV schedules are full of gritty northern dramas, London cop shows or programmes that use famous regional landmarks as their backdrops. Happy Valley is set in Yorkshire, Unforgotten, Luther and Marcella in London, Broadchurch in Dorset. The biggest soaps are in the capital, Manchester and the Yorkshire Dales. Doctor Who may travel anywhere in time and space, but the Tardis chose to move its regular base from Wales to Sheffield.

Yes, we have the sublime Peaky Blinders, created by proud Brummie Steven Knight, and Line of Duty subtly hints at an anonymous Midlands setting, but there are very, very few shows where you can see life here on your screens, or hear our accents. As one of the UK’s most densely populated places, this underrepresentation is simply wrong.

Last week, the BBC announced ambitious plans for its biggest transformation in decades, including moving more programme making and investment to the West Midlands, finally delivering the kind of investment that our region has been crying out for.

This followed months of negotiations with Tim Davie, new BBC Director General, and means that over the next six years the corporation will increase activity across the region, with at least one new primetime drama series and one new primetime entertainment series commissioned here.

This will not only bring new jobs and opportunities, it will also give us the chance to tell our own stories, express our creativity, make our voices heard and ensure a fairer representation for the region on the cultural landscape. However, it will also mean that the BBC will benefit hugely from the incredible pool of talent here.

This is an industrious, innovative place. In the last four years our creative sector has really begun to regain momentum. Creative and digital was the fastest growing sector in the West Midlands between 2016 and 2018. There are nearly 1000 creative businesses in the region, contributing £4.7 billion per year to the economy – that’s why I have always championed it as a sector.

Now, this new BBC investment will feed that momentum, creating more jobs and giving us the opportunity to be a leading light in the sector again, just as we were in the heyday of Pebble Mill.

There have been setbacks. There is no doubt that years of BBC under-investment impacted on independent production here, which was cited as one of the possible reasons Channel 4 chose in 2018 to overlook Birmingham’s bid to be its new base outside of London, in favour of Leeds.

I was personally hugely disappointed by the Channel 4 decision, because I thought we were the best choice, but I don’t regret the fact that we tried. In fact, going through the process with Channel 4 helped us to galvanise our creative sector, work out where our strengths lay, and it has laid the foundations for the successes we are now seeing.

Under my leadership, the West Midlands Combined Authority helped set up Create Central to bring together the local screen industry to lead the development of plans to grow the sector. This included £2 million for Create Central to fund a programme of activities to boost the film, TV and games sector in the region, with £500,000 to run bootcamps to teach young people the skills they need to work in the TV production sector.

All this activity means the arrival of more BBC activity coincides with a creative explosion here, centred around Birmingham’s Digbeth. Two major new production facilities are already planned in this creative quarter of the Brum – Mercian Studios, an international film studios and media village, led by Peaky Blinders’ Steven Knight, and a new Creative Content Hub for independent TV and content production.

Over the next few weeks, the UK will be gripped by Line of Duty, a TV phenomenon that began here in the West Midlands. Soon, the Peaky Blinders will return to our screens too. The news that the BBC is to finally take full advantage of the immense talent to be found here will mean viewers can look forward to many more West Midlands-made TV classics, while local people will get a fairer share of the nation’s cultural currency.

Andy Street: Here in the West Midlands, we have been ‘levelling up’ for four years

9 Mar

Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.

When I became the West Midlands’ first Metro Mayor four years ago, one of my pledges from the outset was to be a Mayor for the whole region, not just Birmingham.

I knew that, in order to properly unite our seven constituent boroughs, it was vital to dispel the long-standing notion that the Second City usually got all the attention, and the lion’s share of inward investment.

My ambition has always been to ensure all of our areas benefitted from the significant growth we enjoyed before the pandemic hit, to ensure that no communities were left behind as we revived the fortunes of the region.

In that sense, my job, and the work of the West Midlands Combined Authority, could be seen as a regional version of the ‘levelling up’ agenda. I am certain that one of the most successful aspects of devolution has been the ability for local decision makers to direct investment proportionally in this way, using local knowledge to ensure money builds a robust economy across the region.

I want to use this column to explain how one of our great cities – Wolverhampton – continues to benefit from this approach, and how investment and major projects are set to propel its recovery.

Much like constituencies in the North, Wolverhampton returned two ‘red wall’ Conservative MPs in Stuart Anderson and Jane Stevenson, so it is important that voters see results in terms of investment. However, the fact is that here in the West Midlands, we have been busy ‘levelling up’ for four years.

Just this week I visited to see Wolverhampton become the first big city to unveil our cycle share scheme, which will quickly spread out to cover the entire West Midlands. It was a fitting place to launch our version of Boris Bikes, because the city is buzzing with good news and progress at the moment.

Arriving, it was brilliant to see the progress being made on the new £150m transport interchange. We have demolished a drab 1960s station and are transforming it into the new interchange, that for the first time will link up with our expanding metro network, plus newer, greener buses and, of course, the new bikes. Backing this investment in Wolverhampton was one of the first decisions I made as Mayor, because I knew that improving transport connectivity would be crucial to driving forward investment and the city’s future. It has also provided the kind of tangible improvement that is so vital to the concept of ‘levelling up’.

Supercharged with support from Government, especially Wolverhampton-born Robert Jenrick, the Communities Minister, the plan is working – with projects transforming the city.

My vision is to make Wolverhampton the national centre of construction, and the Black Country’s position as a pioneer of ‘brownfield remediation’ (the science of reclaiming derelict eyesores) makes it perfectly placed to achieve this position.

Last year we put Wolverhampton at the heart of our bid for the Government’s funding of ‘shovel ready’ schemes, securing £14.9 million for the National Brownfield Institute at the former Springfield Brewery. Itself a major regeneration project, which is now well underway, this will put the city in a national leadership position when it comes to the skills, training, and expertise needed for remediating and redeveloping brownfield sites – meaning local people will be in pole-position to get a brilliant career in our successful construction industry. It will also mean that my ‘brownfield first’ housing policy for the region can be delivered by workers from our region.

On Boxing Day, we saw Wolverhampton win over £15 million from the Future High Streets Fund to drive the local economy forward. This was a very significant investment, which was followed by an even bigger £25 million in the budget through the Towns Fund. Crucially, the local spirit of levelling up means that this £40 million will not just go to the city centre, but will be shared with two other Wolverhampton communities, Bilston and Wednesfield.

And last month saw the culmination of a plan we have been working on as a local team for months: to persuade Government to move hundreds of good-quality civil service jobs from Whitehall to Wolverhampton.

With the move of Jenrick’s own Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to Wolverhampton we will see a major boost to the City’s trade and local businesses and open up brilliant civil service careers to local people.

But, more importantly, an idea like this moves decision making into the regions, further raising the Government’s understanding and commitment to Wolverhampton, the Black Country and the West Midlands.

Last week’s budget provided the first glimpse of this baring fruit – with the announcement that a new taskforce to accelerate Methods of Modern Construction would be based in the MHCLG’s new Wolverhampton offices, with £10 million of seed funding.

Another important factor in building a level economy across the region is to ensure that all of our areas can benefit from each other’s economic strengths. I have made no secret of my determination to support the West Midlands place as the UK’s car-making heartland, not least with my calls for a ‘gigafactory’ in Coventry, which is the centre of our automotive cluster.

So I was delighted to open a new Electrical Vehicle and Green Technologies Training Centre at the City of Wolverhampton College, which will deliver the UK’s first scheme to train technicians to work on electrical and hybrid vehicles.

Finally, there can new few better ways of levelling up across a region than by connecting people to job opportunities through the ability to travel easily between neighbouring boroughs. Our ambitious plans to reopen a rail line between Wolverhampton and Walsall – which has been closed to passengers since the Beeching cuts – is now fully funded, with work set to start imminently.

Wolverhampton has faced many economic challenges; the collapse of Carillion hit the city hard, and the closure of the iconic Beatties department store provided a powerful symbol of the problems faced by its city centre. Throughout the pandemic those challenges have continued, with key employers heavily affected by the economic impact of Covid-19, such as aerospace firm Collins or hospitality giant Marstons.

But these last few months have shown by working effectively with Government – and employing the full power of devolved decision making – we can secure the resources and investment needed to not only compete regionally, but nationally too.