Conservative MPs, mayors and council leaders urge a localist approach to reducing the virus

12 Oct

The brave new dawn of the Coalition Government in 2010 might have meant some mushy consensus. It might have ensured that Parliamentary arithmetic required compromise to triumph over radicalism. Some might even have felt this was inevitable. Yet it was rather impressive how bold the reforms David Cameron managed to achieve during that time – notably in education and welfare. One approach that the Conservative and Lib Dems agreed on was localism – an end to the New Labour centralised control freakery of the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown years, where town halls were given such detailed targets and instructions that local democracy ceased to amount to much in terms of practical difference.

Nick Clegg, when he was the Deputy Prime Minister, rightly declared:

“Opponents of localism brandish the phrase “postcode lottery” to dramatize differences in provision between areas. But it is not a lottery when decisions about provision are made by people who can be held to democratic account. That is not a postcode lottery — it is a postcode democracy”

I don’t think that Theresa May was of the same Cameron/Clegg mindset. Nor, to be fair, did local democracy always rise to the challenge. In any event, localism seemed to go out of fashion. Until now. The abject failures of the centralised track and trace efforts have been set out on this site by Charlotte Gill. The usual Labour response is to demand that more money be spent – but already £10 billion has been thrown at it, which already seems rather a lot. It is no surprise that many are now wondering whether local authorities could do any worse.

The Sunday Times reported yesterday:

“Mayors will be given more control over the coronavirus test-and-trace system as ministers try to secure their support for tough new local lockdown rules. In an admission that the national system is failing, ministers will empower town hall bosses to deploy an army of new local volunteers to knock on doors and ask people to self-isolate. With Covid-19 running rampant, they want local people to take charge of controlling the spread of the virus in the hope it will generate “community spirit” and “improve compliance”…Ministers have spent months pinning their hopes on the NHS Test and Trace system, which has cost £10bn. But the national system of call centres is failing to trace many of those at risk. Local contact tracing has been trialled for several weeks in more than 60 council areas. Public health officials tap into the national database and pick up “difficult cases” where people cannot be traced. A source said: “We want to extend that.” Local authorities will also be given greater control over mobile testing units and walk-in centres.”

On Wednesday I wrote about the Government facing growing backchat from prominent Labour figures in local goverment. But the Sunday Times report adds that Andy Street, the Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands, has said localised test-and-trace programmes piloted by councils in his region had been successful, with between 98 per cent and 100 per cent of cases identified – so he would resist his region having a new lockdown imposed. He adds:

“It has always been clear that there was a need for local capacity and our councils have done it very well, and there are now thousands of people being contacted by council staff and related agencies on the ground.”

Then yesterday Cllr David Greenhalgh, the Conservative leader of Bolton Council, took the airwaves to ask:

“I’m urging the Government to listen again…We can not throw our local economy to the wall….There has to be an exit package about we get ourselves out of these restrictions….Why should the north of England be treated any differently?”

Though public opinion is supportive of tough coronavirus restrictions, the resistance to being told what to do by “people in London”  is becoming more outspoken – among Conservative, as well as Labour, MPs. In a House of Commons debate last week, Jake Berry, the Conservative MP for Rossendale and Darwen, warned:

“I think the Government have fallen into the fatal trap of making national decisions based on a London-centric view with London data. I hope that the Minister will go away and reflect on that, and take the opportunity to take a new approach.”

Dehenna Davison, the Conservative MP for Bishop Auckland said:

“If localised measures are to become the norm, will it be possible to have data analysed on a more localised level, allowing areas with minimal cases, where local residents are working hard to follow the guidance, to enjoy more freedom? After all, we are the party of freedom.”

Richard Holden, the Conservative MP for North West Durham, added:

“We all understand that localised restrictions are better than national ones, especially when there are particular spikes in local areas, but there are variations within our communities as well. Weardale in my constituency has far fewer cases than much of the rest of my constituency, so it would be great to see some really localised data and some really localised regulations.”

There is a strong case that the national lockdown was a crude approach and that better targeting – both geographically and demographically – would have been more effective and less harmful. National rules have the advantage of simplicity and clarity – Ministers are less likely to be caught out during interviews; remembering all the local variations is tricky. Yet the logic of containing the spread, while keeping the cost to a minimum, would require a hyper-localised approach. Not regional. Or even by local authority. Holden is right to speak up for Weardale even if elsewhere in Durham the argument against further restrictions is less strong.

The more the case for such nuances is conceded, the weaker is the claim the man in Whitehall knows best. There are limits to what can be done. The NHS – despite its popularity – is a slumbering monolith with an inflexibility which may well explain why most other countries have achieved a lower death rate from the pandemic than we have. The health service can not be restructured in a few days. Still, an enhanced role for local autonomy would surely have a positive role to play. Better late than never.

Shaun Bailey: We can’t let London grind to a halt

23 Sep

Shaun Bailey is a member of the London Assembly and the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London.

Remember the days when London’s transport network led the world? It wasn’t that long ago. Look back to before Sadiq Khan and you see what we used to be capable of. When Boris Johnson was the Mayor of London, we signed off Crossrail 1. We started planning Crossrail 2. We got Boris bikes. We rolled the Overground out to more areas than ever. And we had a congestion charge that raised money without being extreme.

How times have changed. Now we’ve got a Mayor who spent four years managing Transport for London so inefficiently that he had to be bailed out by the government. He let TfL debt rise to a historic £13 billion. He hiked the congestion charge to £15 and extended it to seven days a week. He came into office with Crossrail on time and on budget, but managed to delay it and increase its cost. And he has allowed countless bridges to close, turning journeys across the river into Homeric odysseys, as our former Mayor might have said. These days the only way our transport system leads the world is in headlines about how London’s bridges are falling down.

It’s incredibly disappointing. Forget about the rest of the world — our transport system is what makes this city possible. It’s how businesses get around but it’s also how we see family and friends. That’s why I believe Londoners have the right to an efficient transport system. And I believe it’s the Mayor’s responsibility to deliver it. So I can’t understand why Sadiq Khan has let our transport network fall into its current state.

I don’t buy the narrative that failure is inevitable. After all, it’s not like we’ve seen these transport failures in other parts of the country. Far from it. Conservative mayors like Andy Street and Ben Houchen are setting a great example for London, something our Mayor should take note of.

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, is pioneering a Metro system and opening new stations in Coventry and Wolverhampton. Ben Houchen, the Mayor of the Tees Valley, saved the local airport from closure and helped bring new investment into the region. They are doing exactly what Conservative mayors always do: working with business and government to deliver improvements in people’s lives.

Recently, Greg Hands and I had to take some of Khan’s job description into our own hands. When Hammersmith Bridge was closed yet again, Khan refused to take responsibility yet again. But the consequences were too great for us to ignore. Residents faced three-hour bus rides just to get across the river. Emergency services struggled to respond to call-outs. Businesses were reporting that trade was down between 30 per cent and 40 per cent.

So together, Greg and I asked the government to intervene and take over Hammersmith Bridge. And we are hugely grateful that the government listened. Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, bailed out Sadiq Khan by taking over the bridge and funding the repairs.

But even though Grant Shapps did the right thing, it should never have come to this. As the Mayor of London, I’ll make it my priority to get TfL’s finances back in order. I’ll cut waste, end inflated executive pay, and provide the leadership TfL needs. That way, Londoners will have a transport network fit for a global city — and we can start to lead the world once again.

Andy Street: Coventry could provide a blueprint for the nation’s city centres

8 Sep

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

Five years ago, Coventry was the seventh and final Council to vote to join the West Midlands Combined Authority, embracing the new spirit of cooperation sparked by the devolution of power to the region.

As one of England’s top 10 Cities, Coventry’s inclusion alongside the other six boroughs of Birmingham, Dudley, Solihull, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton was a vital component of a confident and assertive new West Midlands.

Like all of its new partners, Coventry brought to the table not only a proud and distinct character but some of the driving force that helped make the West Midlands the UK’s industrial heartland.

As a consequence, the city made a major contribution to the strong regional economy we had built here before COVID-19 struck, which was second only to London. Now, as our region plots its recovery, new jobs and investment will be key.

Just as I believe an innovative ‘can-do’ attitude made Coventry one of the big winners from working regionally, I believe we have laid much of the groundwork to create the jobs needed for the city to bounce back, after the pandemic. I’d like to use this column to navigate what lies on the road ahead for the ‘motor city’ – and illustrate how Coventry has benefited from taking its place at the West Midlands table.

As the UK cautiously attempts to return to normality, the future of our city centres has become a hot topic. Coventry is on the cusp of a major investment that could provide a blueprint for the nation’s city centres, which will see old and tired tracts of retail-focused land repurposed for a new era.

More than £95m of regional funding has been set aside for the “City Centre South” transformation, with the plans being consulted on over the Summer.

This huge scheme represents a 21st century rethink, moving away from the reliance on big anchor stores and making city centre living a reality, by creating 1,300 new homes – all on reclaimed brownfield sites.

While there will, of course, still be plenty of room for high-quality retail, leisure offerings such as bars, restaurants, a hotel and potentially a cinema will drive footfall from new city-centre dwellers as well as attracting residents from the suburbs.

It is estimated that City Centre South will bring at least a thousand new jobs, with another 620 when construction begins. But this is just one facet of our plans for Coventry, which are transforming the city.

By investing in our ‘brownfield first’ policy, we can boost jobs in the construction sector and provide footfall for the high street. We are providing funding to reclaim more brownfield sites to turn them into homes and ease the pressure on green spaces around the city’s edges.

For example, Coventry’s former National Grid depot, a derelict eyesore since 2010, is set to be transformed into hundreds of homes backed by regional cash.

This kind of regional investment is important, as one of the biggest challenges the City faces is pressure for more homes and development – which is causing much angst for communities facing threats to their Green Belt.

Regional investment of £51million is going into the flagship Friargate office development – right next to Coventry’s central railway station – bringing in good jobs to support the City Centre economy.

And the station itself is being completely upgraded from the 1960s building of the past to create the modern gateway this growing City needs – with £39.4m of regional cash underpinning the £90m+ scheme.

Added capacity at the city centre station will help us deliver a package of new suburban stations in the City, working with the Government to improve transport links and connect Coventry’s communities with new opportunities.

Wider investment in the City’s transport will include a pioneering “Very Light Rail” system. Recently backed by the Government’s Get Britain Building Fund, the prototype of this system is being designed and built-in Coventry, before being tested in Dudley.

In the last few days, local roads have seen the roll-out of the city’s first modern electric buses. These clean, eco-friendly vehicles will use battery power to help Coventrians get about. And it is this technology that offers the biggest opportunity for the future of the UK’s motor city in terms of jobs.

Regional money has contributed £18m towards the National Battery Industrialisation Centre, which is due to open later this year in the City, cementing Coventry’s place at the heart of the technology that will transform the automotive industry.

Crucially, we want this centre to be the pilot that helps bring a “Gigagfactory” to our region to mass-produce electric batteries for the sector.

The West Midlands is already the UK centre of driverless car testing, with both Coventry and Warwick Universities providing valuable local input into the emerging technology. Driverless vehicles are being tested on the streets of the city and the region’s motorways. Cutting-edge testing facilities down the road in Warwickshire are a hotbed of autonomous motoring too.

The Prime Minister has spoken of bringing the Gigafactory here, saying our region is seeing ‘a 21st Century industrial revolution’ in battery and low-carbon technology’. Electrification can provide the power to drive new jobs for Coventry and the region as a whole.

Finally, we are backing Coventry to shine on the national and international stage with City of Culture festivities next year.

There is £35m of regional money going into making this a success. It is focused on projects that will leave a lasting legacy for the City and its residents – above all jobs.

In the last five years, Coventry has embraced the benefits of a collaborative West Midlands, while contributing the drive that has always made it one of the UK’s most industrious places. As we look to create the jobs of the future, that combination of regional support and local innovation will be key.

Jay Singh-Sohal: I’m promising our West Midlands communities a robust response to crime

4 Sep

Capt. Jay Singh-Sohal works in Strategic Communications for M&C Saatchi and serves as a captain in the Army Reserve. He is the Conservative candidate for West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner.

It’s now been over a year since I was selected as the Conservative candidate for the Police and Crime Commissioner role in the West Midlands. While the national emergency with Covid 19 has delayed last May’s elections to 2021, I feel as motivated as ever to deliver the change we need in my home region.

That’s because the West Midlands is crying out for a new approach and leadership when it comes to local policing. Labour has been in the role for the entire eight years that it has existed, and over this period we have seen a rise in the local precept as well as a rise in crime.

Ahead of lockdown, crime was already increasing with knife crime and violence of particular concern. Meanwhile, suspects in the West Midlands are far less likely to be charged or issued with a summons than they were five years ago, with fewer than one in 14 crimes reported to police resulting in a court appearance.

Currently, the West Midlands is yet to see the benefit of the extra police officers the government has funded.  We had 366 allocated for the first year, but in the nine months to June 2020 only 27 have been recruited in the region.  Why? Meanwhile, the threat to police stations continues with zero clarity on what will happen to those earmarked for closure this year in Aldridge, Sutton Coldfield, Solihull, Tipton, and Wednesfield. All Conservative areas. What a coincidence!

Priti Patel, our Home Secretary, has delivered the bold and robust measures needed to tackle crime and accompanied this with extra funding.  The West Midlands has certainly benefited with an increase of nearly £50m taking the total funding for 2020/21 to just over £620m. It’s a vast amount of resources with which to set local priorities and targets that tackle rising violence, knife crime, county-lines drugs, theft, and burglary.

What it now needs is a Conservative to target these resources effectively. The fundamental truth in the West Midlands is that the approach to setting the police budget to tackle crime has to change. The current Labour incumbent is obsessed with using the powerful role to play party politics, constantly lamenting “austerity” cuts, shirking responsibility and favouring particular communities over others.  He’s even placed himself as an unofficial opposition to our successful Mayor Andy Street and got involved in issues outside of his brief.

What we need is more policing and less politics. A fresh approach built around my key policy pledges of stopping police station closures and increasing frontline policing meant we were winning the argument in the West Midlands, and still can.  And so as I reflect upon what has changed since a year ago, the ground appears to be fairly similar to where we were in 2019. Although the journey has been anything but ordinary.

When I first considered the PCC role, I, like many other approved Prospective Parliamentary Candidates, was awaiting a general election. What convinced me to commit to the police and crime role was the opportunity to deliver a better public service for our six million residents living across twenty-eight Parliamentary constituencies in seven metropolitan boroughs.

Knocking on doors and speaking to residents I have found them ever-ready to give me a chance with their vote, because as a Conservative I put taxpayers money and duty above partisanship. It also helps that the incumbent is retiring and Labour have selected a Momentum candidate to replace him, a man who joined a Black Lives Matter rally in Birmingham during lockdown – to bend the knee alongside those who seek to defund the police.

I stand as one of a new generation of pragmatists looking to make positive change happen. I’m half the age of the current Labour PCC and representative of a third of my region that is Black And Minority Ethnic, so I bring new ideas as well as a deeper understanding of issues affecting diverse communities regionally as well as nationally.

I also  draw upon more than a decade in the Armed Forces as an active Army Reservist, I see the PCC role as a continuation of my duty to serve in this way – providing the leadership, new thinking, energy and innovation that we now require to tackle crime.

Indeed, when this year’s elections were cancelled back in March, I did not hesitate in voluntarily mobilising with the Army on Operation Rescript, the military response to the pandemic. Seeing the impact Coronavirus was having from the privileged position of my special role brought home the severity of the situation as well as the knock on effect it would have on law and order. On many occasions, I saw the challenge presented to the government as well as local Commissioners. In some instances, I lamented that some PCCs were not being more effective by stepping forward, being more visible in their communities and helping guide their forces to deal with rule-breakers.

It’s become cliched to say everything’s changed because of Covid 19.  But returning to the “civilian” fold in July and with lockdown easing, I certainly felt it.  There are heightened tensions in diverse communities over the policing of lockdown as well as tensions over alleged racial profiling.  But I’ve also seen a great amount of togetherness in so many communities like mine – both the Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield and the Indian community.  I take pride that many have rallied, helping and serving others during this ordeal.

But I fear for what time spent in lockdown has meant for people’s mental health in particular, both in terms of their wellbeing and potential knock-on effect into crime. It is a hidden danger which we might not realise straight away, yet not a day goes by when I am not concerned about the manner in which the continuing rising crime levels in the West Midlands are manifesting.

Recently, the cross-party Youth Violence Commission reported that there could be a knife crime spike as children who’ve witnessed domestic violence are released from lockdown. While we are seeing lawlessness post-lockdown, with almost a weekly occurrence of shootings in the West Midlands, police officers attacked and the elderly and vulnerable burgled in more horrendous ways. Illegal raves are on the up, which Nicola Richards, the MP for West Bromwich East, and I recently highlighted on social media. West Midlands Police responded by breaking up 125 parties last weekend including one in Birmingham attended by 600 people breaking social distancing rules.

While all this goes on, there is once more a clear lack of leadership from my region’s Labour Police and Crime Commissioner, who offers neither a response nor a strategy nor plan for how to tackle these issues. He is missing from the scene, anonymous to the diverse communities affected by his failed policies who need engagement and reassurance that they and their families will be kept safe.

There is no doubt in my mind from the evidence I’ve seen that we need an increased police presence in our communities and a robust response to crimes ranging from violence to anti-social behaviour.  So as I mark a year as PCC candidate, I have reaffirmed my commitment once more to keeping police stations in Aldridge, Solihull, Sutton Coldfield, Tipton, and Wednesfield if elected. All face closure by Labour, but I would work with local and community groups to get more out of them while increasing trust and engagement with the police within.

It’s far too easy for Labour to blame the government, and sit back and watch the repercussions of rising crime unfold. This is not leadership. It is a dereliction of duty. So for me, the May 2021 PCC elections cannot come soon enough; the West Midlands is crying out for change.

Andy Street: The West Midlands is rising to the challenge of building a better future

11 Aug

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

A few weeks ago, in the West Midlands, the Prime Minister sent out a clarion call to construction – with his plan to get Britain building. Against the backdrop of Dudley College’s Advance II campus, the PM announced the fast-tracking of £5 billion of major projects that would help the nation build its way back to health.

The West Midlands was the perfect place to set out this plan – because we are already rising to the challenge of building a better future, pioneering new technologies to create vital jobs and build more homes.

Weeks before, our region had set out its own long-term blueprint for recovery. It requires significant investment from the Government – £3.2 billion over the next three years – covering everything from construction to the automotive sector and investing in skills.

Broadly in line with the £2.7 billion investment we have secured since 2017, our ambitious blueprint reflects our economic success of recent years. For the UK to fully recover, all of its regions must recover too – creating a stronger country with a more robust, balanced economy. Our plan is an example of confident regional leadership setting out what it needs to bounce back.

Last week we saw the Government endorse that ambition. The vital funding we need began to flow, with £66 million from the Government’s Get Britain Building fund, for a package of eight “shovel ready” schemes here.

Crucially, all eight projects will make an immediate difference by helping to create and secure jobs for local people. This money is also an investment in our future, to cement the West Midlands’ place as a global leader in green and clean technology, life sciences, transport of the future, and construction.

The schemes form part of our region’s blueprint for recovery, drawn up by the West Midlands Combined Authority and our constituent members. With this extra money, we can get started on them straight away, creating thousands of jobs and generating further investment.

They also encapsulate what I have been trying to achieve as Mayor of the West Midlands.

First and foremost, before a spade hits the ground, they show how the people of the West Midlands have built a formidable team.

By working together as a region, our member boroughs of Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton always achieve far better results. Our three Local Enterprise Partnerships authored the latest bids for Government money, backed to the hilt by our seven councils. Where in the past competing local interests may have undermined each other, these latest schemes present a shared vision that will benefit all.

This is key to my role as mayor, bringing different councils, local enterprise partnerships, business groups and the teams behind individual schemes together to fashion a compelling, united pitch.

Second, these projects focus on the creation of high-quality jobs, which are so vital as we plot our economic recovery post Coronavirus.

We know a dynamic life sciences sector can play a key part in the economic future of the West Midlands. An investment of £10 million will provide innovation spaces and research laboratories at the Birmingham Health Innovation Campus. Our region’s role as a test bed for the new 5G network provides another opportunity, and investment will help small and medium sized business to develop ground-breaking 5G apps.

There is also investment to ensure the region reaps long-term job benefits from two major events on the horizon. Coventry City of Culture will get £6 million to support various initiatives to make the most of the opportunities presented by next year’s celebrations – including the building of a new heritage park. And we are ensuring the legacy of the Birmingham Commonwealth Games in 2022 extends across the region, with £3.9 million towards constructing improved facilities at the Ricoh Arena, again in Coventry.

Thirdly, these quick-turnaround schemes will significantly push forward my long-term transport plan for the region. Following on from the rebuilding of Coventry and Wolverhampton stations, £15 million will help redevelop University Station in Edgbaston, which is one of the busiest stations in the West Midlands and will be a key gateway for visitors for the Commonwealth Games.

In the Black Country, a new Very Light Rail Innovation Centre will develop modes of transport which are both green, cheaper and quicker to deliver than traditional tram or rail. More investment will see this technology transform public transport in Coventry.

Finally, and perhaps most tangibly, last week’s announcement recognises the West Midland’s achievements in house building and provides the investment needed to lay the foundations for a new era in home construction here.

Before Coronavirus hit, our region was building record numbers of homes, achieving results considerably above the national average. At the root of that success was our “brownfield first” policy.

I make no bones about my belief in the need to always target brownfield sites when it comes to new developments, regenerating derelict areas to ease the pressure on our Green Belt and open spaces. We have shown that this is a viable policy. It removes contaminated eyesores, rejuvenates communities and protects the environment.

The exciting investment in the National Brownfield Institute at Wolverhampton will cement our position as a national leader in remediation and construction technology, ensuring we have the local skilled workforce to build the homes we need.

With efforts now being made to speed up the planning process, the West Midlands stands ready to develop the technology and new skills needed to get Britain building.

As we continue to tackle the Coronavirus pandemic, we face significant challenges on the road to recovery, not least the threat of a fluctuating “R rate” and further lockdowns. Yet construction – an industry used to stringent safety measures and better suited to social distancing – is a sector that can kickstart our economy.

By backing these eight shovel-ready schemes, the Government has begun to deliver the investment we need.

Andy Street: The West Midlands is rising to the challenge of building a better future

11 Aug

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

A few weeks ago, in the West Midlands, the Prime Minister sent out a clarion call to construction – with his plan to get Britain building. Against the backdrop of Dudley College’s Advance II campus, the PM announced the fast-tracking of £5 billion of major projects that would help the nation build its way back to health.

The West Midlands was the perfect place to set out this plan – because we are already rising to the challenge of building a better future, pioneering new technologies to create vital jobs and build more homes.

Weeks before, our region had set out its own long-term blueprint for recovery. It requires significant investment from the Government – £3.2 billion over the next three years – covering everything from construction to the automotive sector and investing in skills.

Broadly in line with the £2.7 billion investment we have secured since 2017, our ambitious blueprint reflects our economic success of recent years. For the UK to fully recover, all of its regions must recover too – creating a stronger country with a more robust, balanced economy. Our plan is an example of confident regional leadership setting out what it needs to bounce back.

Last week we saw the Government endorse that ambition. The vital funding we need began to flow, with £66 million from the Government’s Get Britain Building fund, for a package of eight “shovel ready” schemes here.

Crucially, all eight projects will make an immediate difference by helping to create and secure jobs for local people. This money is also an investment in our future, to cement the West Midlands’ place as a global leader in green and clean technology, life sciences, transport of the future, and construction.

The schemes form part of our region’s blueprint for recovery, drawn up by the West Midlands Combined Authority and our constituent members. With this extra money, we can get started on them straight away, creating thousands of jobs and generating further investment.

They also encapsulate what I have been trying to achieve as Mayor of the West Midlands.

First and foremost, before a spade hits the ground, they show how the people of the West Midlands have built a formidable team.

By working together as a region, our member boroughs of Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton always achieve far better results. Our three Local Enterprise Partnerships authored the latest bids for Government money, backed to the hilt by our seven councils. Where in the past competing local interests may have undermined each other, these latest schemes present a shared vision that will benefit all.

This is key to my role as mayor, bringing different councils, local enterprise partnerships, business groups and the teams behind individual schemes together to fashion a compelling, united pitch.

Second, these projects focus on the creation of high-quality jobs, which are so vital as we plot our economic recovery post Coronavirus.

We know a dynamic life sciences sector can play a key part in the economic future of the West Midlands. An investment of £10 million will provide innovation spaces and research laboratories at the Birmingham Health Innovation Campus. Our region’s role as a test bed for the new 5G network provides another opportunity, and investment will help small and medium sized business to develop ground-breaking 5G apps.

There is also investment to ensure the region reaps long-term job benefits from two major events on the horizon. Coventry City of Culture will get £6 million to support various initiatives to make the most of the opportunities presented by next year’s celebrations – including the building of a new heritage park. And we are ensuring the legacy of the Birmingham Commonwealth Games in 2022 extends across the region, with £3.9 million towards constructing improved facilities at the Ricoh Arena, again in Coventry.

Thirdly, these quick-turnaround schemes will significantly push forward my long-term transport plan for the region. Following on from the rebuilding of Coventry and Wolverhampton stations, £15 million will help redevelop University Station in Edgbaston, which is one of the busiest stations in the West Midlands and will be a key gateway for visitors for the Commonwealth Games.

In the Black Country, a new Very Light Rail Innovation Centre will develop modes of transport which are both green, cheaper and quicker to deliver than traditional tram or rail. More investment will see this technology transform public transport in Coventry.

Finally, and perhaps most tangibly, last week’s announcement recognises the West Midland’s achievements in house building and provides the investment needed to lay the foundations for a new era in home construction here.

Before Coronavirus hit, our region was building record numbers of homes, achieving results considerably above the national average. At the root of that success was our “brownfield first” policy.

I make no bones about my belief in the need to always target brownfield sites when it comes to new developments, regenerating derelict areas to ease the pressure on our Green Belt and open spaces. We have shown that this is a viable policy. It removes contaminated eyesores, rejuvenates communities and protects the environment.

The exciting investment in the National Brownfield Institute at Wolverhampton will cement our position as a national leader in remediation and construction technology, ensuring we have the local skilled workforce to build the homes we need.

With efforts now being made to speed up the planning process, the West Midlands stands ready to develop the technology and new skills needed to get Britain building.

As we continue to tackle the Coronavirus pandemic, we face significant challenges on the road to recovery, not least the threat of a fluctuating “R rate” and further lockdowns. Yet construction – an industry used to stringent safety measures and better suited to social distancing – is a sector that can kickstart our economy.

By backing these eight shovel-ready schemes, the Government has begun to deliver the investment we need.