Andy Street: How we’re turning the West Midlands into a world city-region

Devolution has given us the chance to solve the long-standing transport and infrastructure problems which have been holding us back.

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

What sets a place apart as a ‘world city’? As West Midlands Mayor, it’s my job to raise the region’s global profile, to ensure it gate-crashes conversations usually occupied by the likes of New York, Berlin, and London.

If it’s diversity, we have it – the West Midlands is a place where you can discover the world in a day. If it’s growth, the West Midlands has shown the biggest increase in productivity anywhere outside the capital. If innovation is the key, more start-ups are choosing us as their new home than ever before.

One critical factor that sets the likes of London, Paris, Berlin, and the Big Apple apart are their world-class underground and metro public transport systems – the Underground, the Paris Metro, the U-Bahn, and the Subway. Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo and Seoul are also members of the club. These long-established networks are an intrinsic part of local culture.

In the West Midlands, historical under-investment in regional infrastructure is very slowly improving, but as part of Local Industrial Strategy, and the drive to further increase productivity, we need to see that accelerate.

Before devolution created the West Midlands Combined Authority, our region received just one seventh of the capital spending per head on transport enjoyed by those in London. It is illuminating that, despite being the nation’s second biggest city in terms of population, recent analysis by the Guardian concluded that Birmingham was effectively a small city, as a result of its transport challenges.

Now, with decision-making in local hands and more investment, this situation is improving. These are problems that have been talked about for a quarter of a century, and we have finally been able to unblock them in the last two years. But more investment is needed.

Why? Because while we are seeing an economic renaissance here, growth brings its own challenges in terms of congestion, connectivity, and mobility. Recent data has shown that Birmingham is the UK’s third most congested city.

As the crucible of the Industrial Revolution, we once set the standard in public transport. Until 1953, Birmingham boasted the biggest narrow-gauge tramway in the UK. The Black Country boasted a similarly impressive tram system. With the decline in industry, that system was dismantled. Now, with the region’s ambition and confidence resurgent, we are once again building a metro system that befits an economic powerhouse.

The West Midlands already has a good local train network, and we are even reopening stations that have been closed since the 1960s. Passenger usage is well up on last year, in contrast to London and the North.

Our fast-growing Metro system complements those rail services. The rebirth began in 1999, with the opening of the Midlands Metro Line between Birmingham and Wolverhampton. Passenger numbers have been steadily growing, passing the seven million mark for the first time last year.

However, in an enormous region that spans our seven member boroughs of Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Solihull, Coventry, Sandwell, Walsall and Dudley, there is still much more for us to do to achieve the kind of transit system we need.

We are currently working on four major extensions to the Metro. In Birmingham, a line is being built from the city centre to Edgbaston, while in the Black Country a £449 million route will join Wednesbury and Brierley Hill. A third extension runs to the new HS2 station at Curzon Street, while a fourth will link to Birmingham Airport.

Over the coming years, our network will triple in size, as a massive £1.3 billion investment programme being spearheaded by the West Midlands Combined Authority and Transport for West Midlands is completed. We are leading the way in building a regional public transport network for the 21st century. This is our Crossrail.

Here are five key lessons we have learned when building our Metro:

Establish consensus

For a transport programme of this magnitude to be a success, everyone needs to be onboard. We have worked closely in a cross-party way with constituent councils, local MPs and Government to ensure that we deliver on these schemes.

Show benefits quickly

Infrastructure programmes bring jobs, and it’s vital the population hears about those opportunities quickly. That means advertising the new roles and apprenticeships which will be available during the construction of the Metro. To spread the benefits of a project like this, you must help local businesses bid to be part of the project. These activities help the public see the benefits long before the first trams are on the rails, and ensures local people feel they are invested in the network.

Manage disruption

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Our Edgbaston extension closed roads including Birmingham’s Broad Street, one of the businesses nightlife destinations in the country. Many party members visiting Birmingham for Conference last year will have seen some of this disruption for themselves. We have spent a lot of time and money supporting the businesses who will be affected by the works, particularly by letting their customers know they are still open for business.

Be innovative

The Government has invested £200 million in reinventing the West Midlands Metro network, but we are determined that we aren’t just reliant on handouts from Westminster and that we use our own resourcefulness to finance these Metro improvements. For the first time, we in the West Midlands will be financing the Brierley Hill Metro extension through prudent borrowing, against future Metro revenues.

Be ambitious

Don’t just go for the small extensions you can afford now and which everyone will agree to. Be ambitious, challenge people to think about a world-class network and what money and routes it would take to make it happen. The new extension from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill has been talked about for twenty five years. I am proud that as a Conservative Mayor, with the support of a Conservative Government, we are set to get the diggers in the ground this year.

Through this approach, we’re building a Metro network to be proud of. We look forward to welcoming you to Birmingham for Party Conference again soon, so that you can try it out for yourself. Passenger numbers show that residents are responding to our attempts to properly link up this densely-populated part of the UK, helping them reach the opportunities that our economic policies are bringing.

As one of the UK’s success stories, we expect the West Midlands to rub shoulders with ‘world cities’ like Berlin and New York. Delivering a world-class Metro system will certainly improve our global standing. More importantly, it will make a world of difference to the people who live and work here.

Andy Street: The West Midlands Local Industrial Strategy ensures we are the workshop of the modern world

From transport tech and data-driven healthcare, to creative enterprises and the services sector, we are forging ahead.

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

As the cradle of the industrial revolution, the West Midlands left its mark on the globe. In the 19th and 20th centuries the factories and furnaces of Birmingham, Coventry and the Black Country forged much of the modern world, exporting goods from ACME whistles to BSA motorcycles, from Cadbury’s chocolate to Bird’s Custard.

Even the ships that carried produce and people to far-flung new markets were anchored by huge chains wrought in our land-locked furnaces.

Now, as the first UK region to finalise a Local Industrial Strategy, we are once again leading the way.

The West Midlands has always been a hotbed of innovation and invention, driving advances in engineering, manufacturing, transport, marketing, social change and more. It was the workshop of the world.

Industrial decline began in the 1960s and, by the end of the last century, our region bore the scars of decay – empty, abandoned factories that once employed thousands. All of that has now started to change.

The West Midlands is undergoing a renaissance of growth and investment. New start-ups are choosing our region as the place to be. Nowhere else outside of London has seen the level of growth witnessed in the West Midlands. Output here has risen by 27 per cent in the last five years. Our productivity growth was twice the rate of the rest of the UK in 2017-18. The innovation and invention that once made us the workshop of the world is back.

Like other post-industrial regions in the UK, we must carve out a new strategy for the West Midlands in an increasingly global 21st century. With the uncertainty around Brexit, we need to think about how we build a globally-competitive economy.

That’s why the West Midlands agreed to be a trailblazer, creating the UK’s first Regional Industrial Strategy, leading the way for others to follow.

This strategy sets out the priorities we believe will enable local growth to continue, as well as ensuring that the success of our region is felt by all the communities within it. This success must be inclusive and accessible to all.

With this ground-breaking document now agreed within the region, we are awaiting the endorsement of Government so that, together, we can start turning strategy into action. With the uncertainty over Brexit, that endorsement would mean we can begin this important work soon – and share our message of confidence.

The West Midlands Combined Authority worked with our universities and the region’s three Local Enterprise Partnerships, from Greater Birmingham, the Black Country and Coventry and Warwickshire, to ensure the strategy not only provides a united vision, but that it also reflects the differing needs of our constituent members.

This spirit of inclusivity also included a wide-spread consultation, which asked regional networks, business groups and 350 different organisations for their input. They wanted a clearer definition of the West Midlands’ ‘unique selling points’, expanded opportunities for a broader cross-section of business sectors and more focus on the huge supply chains that link the conurbation.

Respondents also wanted our strategy to engage with all the different kinds of places where business flourishes in the region, from the big cities to the towns and more rural areas. By fully understanding the successes – and challenges – in our own backyard, we have created a strategy that will help sell the West Midlands to the rest of the world.

This meant identifying four major national and global strategic opportunities:

The UK centre for mobility: From driverless cars to light rail and aerospace, we have the supply chains and transport pedigree to steer huge investment to our region. We have a renowned automotive sector, ranging from world-famous brands like JLR and BMW to innovative smaller development firms. We also have the foundation industries that make the metals and materials that underpin vehicle manufacture at more than 20 sites. With our own transport system becoming more and more integrated, and the West Midlands pioneering the roll-out of the 5G network, mobility could bring billions of pounds.

Creative commerce: We have a wealth of nationally-important gaming, TV, film, VR and design firms. By connecting our universities and creative businesses we can design, develop and deploy new products and services. Evidence shows that Birmingham and Solihull alone have the potential to add nearly 4,000 new creative enterprises and 30,000 new related jobs, with the opportunity to scale this across the West Midlands as a whole.

Business services: As we move more towards a service-based economy, we expect to see large-scale growth across this sector. Business, financial and professional services already employ 400,000 people across the conurbation – with 125,000 more jobs forecast by 2030. Here in the West Midlands we have the full suite of services available, from huge international financial brands such as HSBC to an ambitious construction sector that is well placed to grow in strength with the building boom.

Data-driven healthcare: With our diverse and growing population, there are huge opportunities here for biomedical research, linking NHS patient records through 5G and enabling real-life testing of innovative new treatments. Our expertise and ability to work with patient data in an inclusive, collaborative way is a major UK and West Midlands strength. We have a growing cluster of both large and small firms and an associated supply chain, raising at least £35 million of investment in the last 12 months. Crucially, this innovation will be anchored in partnership with the NHS, translating directly into better health care for our citizens. Our diverse region has the research facilities and expertise. It has the population of Scotland and the genome of the world. It could be a global laboratory for data-driven translational medicine.

These four areas allow us to champion our specialist sectors in a way that will create growth and investment to benefit the entire regional economy.

Of course, all this industrial ambition requires a strong foundation in improved skills, transport, housing and land delivery. We are already making huge strides in all these areas but more remains to be done.

Our strategy lays out ideas to affect real change, from doubling the number of good-quality apprenticeships by 2030 to delivering £3.4 billion of investment in trams, road and rail over the next decade.

In housing, we will increase the rate of housing delivery with a £350 million housing plan, investing £250 million in land remediation and developing the skills required through the National Brownfield Institute in Wolverhampton. This is a great start – but more will be needed to serve our growing population.

The strategy will also push for post-EU growth funding to be targeted on the West Midlands and devolved to local decision makers. We must make the case for continuing to invest in us as a resilient and successful economy.

The former workshop of the world needs a world-class strategy to continue its remarkable economic renaissance. It needs to be distinctive to compete with likes of Berlin, Boston and Barcelona.

But in creating this new strategy, we have confirmed that this diverse, ambitious and inventive place still has an energetic, innovative outlook that makes it a powerhouse on the world stage, just as it did during the Industrial Revolution.

With this confident new vision, the West Midlands wants to lead the way in showing the Government’s Industrial Strategy can make a real difference.

Andy Street: Our 12-point plan to revitalise 
the High Street

We need to take a dynamic new approach to our High Streets with ambitious thinking. The future is not just retail.

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

Visit almost any community in the UK and at its very heart you will find a traditional town centre or High Street. They are usually home to a tick-list of the civic buildings and services that support community life: a town hall, the council house, police station, courts, libraries. Public transport networks converge on them, carrying people like nutrients to a vital organ. Historic landmarks – statues, memorials, castles and churches – cement their deeply symbolic place in the local psyche.

It’s no wonder that residents see them as representing the health and prospects of a community. Yet they are clearly facing immense challenges, with each week seeming to bring more disheartening news from retailers. As the former Managing Director of John Lewis, I fully understand the challenges facing the sector. I also know it’s hard for communities to believe in a new economic future when their High Street is partially boarded up.

In the West Midlands, even though the economy is growing quickly, people walk through their town centre and see tired shops, vacant units and run-down public spaces. There is a big difference between the economic statistics and people’s everyday experience.

However, it is a challenge that we are rising to – with our 12-point West Midlands blueprint for successful town centres in Britain. The councils that make up the region – Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Coventry, Walsall, Dudley, Solihull and Sandwell – have come together to announce a programme of trailblazer pilots to put this pioneering plan into action.

Five local centres – Bilston, St Thomas Quarter in Dudley, Bordesley Green in Birmingham, St Matthews Quarter in Walsall and West Bromwich – will take part in a scheme which will benefit other areas, too.

High Streets and town centres across the country have struggled in the last few years, with the rise of online shopping and out-of-town retail destinations. The collapse of BHS, Poundworld and Maplin; pressure on House of Fraser and Debenhams; and branch closures from M&S and the big banks demonstrate how serious this challenge is.

So here it is, our 12-point plan to revitalise the High Street – with some examples of how it is being applied across the West Midlands:

Experience-led Retail: Traditional retailers recognise that they need to evolve to differentiate themselves from online, focusing more on the personal touch and the face-to-face experience you can’t get from a screen. Think specialist retailers, mixed-use spaces, local shops and some new concepts we don’t even know about yet.

Beyond Retail: There are lots of reasons people come to a place: leisure, work, living and accessing public services. A thriving modern town centre needs to offer far more than shopping. Successful places need people to want to come and spend time there. In Walsall, for instance, Walsall Waterfront has brought contemporary culture to bear on the area, with the Walsall New Art Gallery.

Urban Living: Providing homes within walking distance of workplaces gives people more cash and free time to spend it. This could mean repurposing surplus business premises to provide quality urban housing. Apply the lesson of our major cities, where urban living has tripled since 2000, to our town centres and High Streets.

Co-Working in the Town Centre: Our start-up hot beds are too often focussed on bespoke office space in higher rent areas – why not drive this dynamo into every town centre? In Moseley, Birmingham, The Exchange hosts buzzing creative start-ups.

Public Services for All: We need to think radically about how people access public services. As the focal point of public transport, town centres should be the natural place for health and services, skills training and careers advice. In Dorridge, Solihull, Sainsburys built a doctor’s surgery and small retail units alongside their main store. In Sutton Coldfield, the main library now also hosts a popular child-centric café.

Green and Clean: Town centres must be places that people enjoy being. That means safe dedicated cycle and walking routes, green space galore, and elegant street design and street furniture. The approach to Coventry city centre from the railway station past Friargate, is clean, green, landscaped and even has outdoor gym equipment, such as an exercise bike for people to charge their phones

Safe and Secure: People need to feel safe for them to spend time and money in town centres. Good lighting, CCTV, proactive policing and even simple things like secure bike racks are an absolute must. In central Birmingham, the Colmore Business District has appointed wardens to give helpful and reassuring support to businesses and visitors.

Easy to Get To: Whether it’s bus, train, metro, cycling, or walking, town centres must be easy to get into and out of. And public transport beats driving wherever possible. Government must invest in the transport links needed to create thriving high footfall town centres. The extension of the West Midlands Metro from Wednesbury to Dudley and Brierley Hill will bring people into those town centres quickly and easily.

Accelerate Technology Changes: Technology is disrupting retail, transport and all other industries. We can’t turn the clock back, we need to accelerate the future of the town centre. We must adapt and change, like providing pick up options for online deliveries, or perhaps drop-off points for autonomous vehicles.

Strong Local Leadership: Town centres need co-ordination to make sure they provide a good experience for residents and customers. Whether it is local councils masterplanning, BIDs co-ordinating, a single landlord or landlords working together, the best town centres are the most joined up. In Birmingham, the Bullring and Grand Central malls actively ‘curate’ the shopping experience through its choice of tenants.

A Fair Tax System: Traditional and online retailers should be treated equivalently and we should review business rates to even the playing field for town centre shops.  It is widely reported that Amazon’s UK Corporation Tax bill last year was a meagre £4.6 million. This figure was lower than in the previous year. Under the current rules, as their market share grows, they are paying less. In his most recent Budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced measures, including plans to cut business rates by a third for almost half a million small High Street shops. He also unveiled a ‘digital services tax’ on online operators, which must be applauded – but we must constantly review taxation policy to make sure it keeps pace with technological change and shopping habits.

Retain Local Character: Each town centre has a character of its own that makes the locals love it. Whether it is a bustling High Street serving the local Asian community or a quaint old market town, we celebrate a town centre’s unique selling point. In Birmingham, the annual Soho Road Diwali celebrations are run by the local Business Improvement District, one of the many ways it serves the community.

We need to take a dynamic new approach to our High Streets with ambitious thinking. The future is not just retail. Our town centres need housing, workplaces and public services to make them thrive.
In the coming months, we will call on experts from the retail sector, finance, housing, landlords and local authorities from across the UK to support my initiative, too.

Every High Street and town centre in the UK has its own unique characteristics, and there is no ‘one-size’ solution to the problems they are facing. In the same way, the five local centres we have selected as ‘pilots’ have different challenges. By addressing them we can learn lessons to apply across the wider conurbation.

Town centres are deeply symbolic. They matter a great deal to people. This plan can help turn them into thriving and vibrant places again.

John Downer: Scrapping HS2 wouldn’t help the North, it would cut a vital lifeline to the regional economies

Crucial investment in local rail infrastructure isn’t an alternative to the new line, it depends on it.

John Downer is a Director of High Speed Rail Industry Leaders (HSRIL), a group of companies and organisations which is committed to supporting the successful delivery of a world-class high speed rail network in Britain.

Every few months – and more often recently– comes the call to scrap HS2 and spend the money on something else.

And we’ve had it again this week on these very pages, reiterating previous suggestions that the Midlands and the North would be better served by investment in regional transport links.

But, however tempting it might be to spend the budget of a few billions per year on something else, there is little more the Government could do to jeopardise the economic prospects of cities like Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, and Leeds than scrap a project which is so fundamental to their future economic development.

For the most important thing to understand about HS2 is that it is not just a railway. It is an economic regeneration project (and the most important economic regeneration project in Britain for decades) which is catalysing a whole host of other investments in its wake.

What holds Britain back today is not the connections from big cities to London, but poor connections between the other big cities. Services between cities like Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, and Newcastle are slow, unreliable, and overcrowded – and HS2 is absolutely integral to tackling this.

Remember your visit to Birmingham for the Party Conference in October? The cranes and building works were everywhere. Just outside the conference centre you saw the new headquarters of HSBC. Around the corner PwC is building their Midlands base, their biggest single investment outside London.

In Leeds, you have major new investment from Burberry and a whole South Bank regeneration for which HS2 is intrinsic. There are similar stories in Manchester and Liverpool too. And then ask the city leaders, from all political parties, how important HS2 is to triggering that investment, and unanimously they will tell you it is vital. Indeed, the project has no greater champion than Andy Street, Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands.

HS2 is about giving our great cities of the Midlands and the North the springboard to be the economic powerhouses of the future. Put harshly, without HS2, Britain has no strategy to grow our regional economies and no industrial strategy worthy of the name.

For HS2 trains won’t just reach those cities where the new line is being built. They will link into the rest of the network too, meaning that the services will reach 8 of the 10 biggest cities in Britain, reaching places like Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh that are far from the construction of the line itself.

That’s not to say the other transport investment people call for isn’t needed too. It is. And the Government is to be supported in the priority they are attaching to the Northern Powerhouse Rail project to improve east/west links across the north. But far from being an alternative to local transport investment, HS2 is a pre-requisite for it to be successful.

To take one specific example, the West Coast Mainline is presently jam-packed. Passenger numbers on the route have more than doubled since it was last upgraded just 15 years ago, and there is simply no space to add new trains whether for commuters and inter-city travellers or for more freight off the motorways and onto rail. Building HS2 will move the inter-city traffic onto the new line, freeing up capacity for vital local, regional, and commuter services, so passengers in places like Milton Keynes and Coventry will benefit from HS2 as it will improve their commutes into London and Birmingham respectively.

More widely still, the benefit of HS2 supply chain contracts are already being felt across the UK. Nus Ghani MP, the HS2 Minister, is hosting an event in Parliament next week to meet HS2 suppliers, and they come from far-and-wide, not just from the line of route.

Already more than 2000 companies have worked on HS2. There are archaeologists from Bristol, ecological experts from Cardiff, and earth-moving contractors from Buckinghamshire. There are already two suppliers in Northern Ireland, 25 in Scotland and 65 in the South West. HS2 is a truly national project with truly national benefits, and those benefits will only grow over the coming years.

For these businesses, the costs of cancelling HS2 right now would be enormous. Over 7,000 people are working on the project already, and that will become tens of thousands over the next couple of years, with 70 per cent of those jobs outside London. Cancelling it now would literally mean filling-in the freshly dug holes in Birmingham and Euston, and laying off all the apprentices working on site. Is that a serious proposition?

All things considered, HS2 is about joining Britain back together again, after a number of years when our divisions have been more prominent than our unity. It is essential for the UK, and even more vital still for the Midlands and the North which stand to gain the most.

The project is underway. The train has started its journey. Let’s makes sure it reaches its destination and that taxpayers wring every last ounce of benefit from it.

Andy Street: Closing the veteran employment gap in the West Midlands

Former service personnel of working age are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed as those in the UK general population.

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

The marches are over. The Last Post has sounded. Across the UK, beneath war memorials, red wreaths flutter in the breeze. Little wooden crosses stand to attention, each proudly wearing a poppy like a campaign medal, keeping watch until next year’s annual festival of remembrance.

The commemorations of 2018 will live long in the memory. Coming a century after the guns fell silent across Europe, they took on an extra resonance as we came together to remember and honour the sacrifice of our armed forces.

The focus of these events was rightly on the centenary of the armistice and the men who fought in the Great War. However, it’s vital that we ensure the act of remembrance remains relevant, by inspiring real, practical help for today’s veterans while reflecting the diversity of modern Britain.

The Government is doing its part, by launching a UK-wide strategy to support veterans and doubling mental health funding.

But it can never be enough. We must match this ambition at a regional level.

That means creating initiatives that deliver locally to help today’s veterans in practical ways.

And in the diverse Britain of the 21st Century, we must build on the sense of togetherness seen on Remembrance Sunday, by recognising the contribution made by brave personnel from all backgrounds.

There are 76,000 veterans living in the West Midlands, all of whom will have made the difficult move back to civilian life. It is our duty to help them make that transition and, crucially, to find work on civvy street.

That’s because it is a sad truth that the UK has a “veteran employment gap”. Former service personnel of working age are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed as those in the UK general population. An estimated 120,000 veterans are unemployed nationwide.

Here in the West Midlands I have launched two programmes to support our veterans.

Firstly, my successful Mayor’s Mentors programme, which supports 1,300 young people across the West Midlands, is being rolled out to help members of the armed forces who are moving back to civilian life. Mayor’s Mentors for Veterans is recruiting business mentors to support individuals for 12 months, providing friendship, ideas and contacts to help them back into the workplace.

Secondly, we are starting a new programme that recognises the clear skills our veterans have – the qualities of teamwork and leadership imbued by life in our armed forces– and then applying them to our further education and training colleges.

Colleges often struggle to recruit teachers and trainers with the expertise to teach construction. This scheme will enable veterans to become trainers in construction skills, vital for our region’s future.

Schemes like these address the needs of veterans, complementing the great British tradition of remembrance with practical support.

That tradition, of course, has been nurtured for almost 100 years by the Royal British Legion, whose Poppy Appeal provides help for veterans. While the great annual civic events of remembrance retain a link to the Legion’s origins, new ways of honouring the fallen can help keep the tradition alive.

In Aldridge, in the West Midlands, the residents of Station Road united to transform 100 of their homes with 24,000 red poppies. The road, which a century ago saw 56 of its residents serve, was rechristened Poppy Road for the project, which attracted visitors from miles around. Sixteen of the homes displayed a black silhouette of a soldier, indicating how a resident failed to return from the war.

Today’s West Midlands is a tremendously diverse place, much more so than it was 100 years ago when the men of Station Road marched off to war. Yet many do not realise that the Allied forces that served alongside them in the Great War were equally diverse, with troops drawn from across the Commonwealth.

By recognising this diversity we can build on the sense of unity of last weekend’s events and ensure the British tradition of remembrance remains relevant in modern Britain.

For instance, more than 70,000 soldiers from the British Indian Army died in the Great War. During my recent trade mission to India I visited the India Gate, which bears the names of 13,000 men who gave their lives.

In Smethwick, in the Black Country, a bronze statue of a Sikh soldier has been unveiled, honouring service personnel of all faiths from the Indian subcontinent who fought for Britain during World War One.

It has been widely reported that this new memorial has already been vandalised, but the powerful condemnation of this reprehensible act – from all sides of the community – reveals the true nature of our wonderfully diverse region, while reflecting the dogged determination of the brave men the statue remembers.

I am also working with members of the Caribbean community in the West Midlands to raise funds to erect a suitable tribute to the 16,000 men of the British West Indies Regiment who fought at Passchendaele, Ypres and Poelcappelle.

Our aim is to unveil this memorial at the one place in the West Midlands where remembrance is a daily pursuit. The National Memorial Arboretum, in Alrewas, is home to 360 monuments including the Armed Forces Memorial, which bears the name of every serviceman or woman killed since 1945.

The dozens of regimental and naval monuments there stand next to memorials to Jewish, Sikh and Indian servicemen and women, as well as the Gurkhas. It is only right that the bravery of the Caribbean community is recognised too.

It is my hope that in future a rail line will run from Birmingham, through Lichfield to a dedicated station at the arboretum, so many more can experience this deeply moving place.

A century on from the trauma of the Great War, we are still finding ways to recognise those who fought. Indeed, the UK’s proud tradition of honouring the armed forces lives on in today’s diverse and modern society, inspired by their memories.

By complementing that tradition with practical schemes that help 21st century personnel, we are creating a legacy of which I hope any First World War Tommy would approve.

Project Fear Three. Coming your way soon, courtesy of Downing Street?

Obama’s EU referendum intervention didn’t help deliver a Remain result for Cameron. It’s not clear that the Government has learned from the experience.

This time round, the audience will be different.  In 2016, it was voters.  Within less than a month, if all goes to plan, it will be Conservative MPs.  But the strategy is very much the same.  It is to utilise institutional and celebrity power to sell a Brexit deal, just as it was deployed to sell David Cameron’s renegotiation and a Remain vote, or to try.

The BBC has the details.  These contain names one would expect, such as Andy Street, the CBI, and City UK.  There are also people who might prove counter-productive, especially since Tory MPs would be the key demographic.  Anything that Leo Varadkar thinks is good for Ireland isn’t necessarily good for the United Kingdom – or at that’s what some Brexiteer MPs will think, anyway.  But he’s on the list, as is Andy Burnham, another name that won’t necessarily swing the J Alfred Prufrock MPs of this world.

Then there are other names that are more of a mystery.  Why would Team May expect Mark Littlewood and the IEA to line up behind any deal?  After all, their star recent signing, Shanker Singham, is opposed to customs union membership.  ConservativeHome also has its moment in the sun, since our columnist Henry Newman, the director of Open Europe, is also listed.  All in all, the document has the air of an early draft.  Number Ten is denying its authenticity altogether.  None the less, someone, somewhere has been very keen to leak it.

The flip side of the positives would be the negatives: in the event of a deal, Downing Street will hope that the above stress the downside of rejecting a deal – the uncertainties of No Deal.  It would in effect be co-ordinating Project Fear Three.  We all remember Project Fear One from the EU referendum.  We are currently seeing Project Fear Two, of which Project Fear Three would be an iteration.  The irony is that there is good reason to be concerned about No Deal.  But the boy may have cried “Wolf” at least once too often.

As the failure of Cameron’s plan indicates.  Its best-known face was Barack Obama, deputed to say that, in the event of a Brexit vote, Britain would go to “the back of queue” for any trade deal with America.  “The purveyors of the conventional wisdom decreed that it could be a knockout blow for the Leave campaign.  And yet it was not,” writes Tim Shipman in All Out War.  At Vote Leave headquarters, Dominic Cummings “walked into the main campaign war room and announced: ‘This will have no effect’ “.  He was right.

Intriguingly, the leaked document’s timetable is much the same as that we tentatively anticipated on Monday – ” ‘A moment of decisive progress’ will be announced this Thursday. Raab to announce,” it declares.  (Historical footnote: that’s the same Dominic Raab who said, in the wake of Obama’s intervention, that “I don’t think the British people will be blackmailed by a lame duck US President”.)

Number Ten would do better to put any deal that the Cabinet agrees to Conservative MPs straight-up, without any varnish.  An early reading of America’s mid-term elections results, coming in as we write, is that the Republicans have done better than expected.  Donald Trump’s staying power is a reminder that the era of New Labour-type spin is dead and buried.