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Game on! Andy Street ‘to seek Tory nomination’ for West Midlands metro mayor

Game on! Andy Street ‘to seek Tory nomination’ for West Midlands metro mayor

🕔07.Jul 2016

The faint possibility of the first West Midlands elected metro mayor being a Conservative was given a boost today when it was reported that Andy Street, one of the country’s leading business figures, is seeking the Tory nomination.

Mr Street, the managing director of John Lewis and chair of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership, is understood to have decided after months of speculation to throw his hat into the ring for what will be the biggest local government job outside of London.

Birmingham-born Mr Street who has chaired GBSLEP since it was formed is a prominent Tory with close links to the top of the party and a former chairman of the Oxford University Conservative Association.

While his name has been linked with the metro mayor election for more than a year, Mr Street has always refused to confirm that he has any interest in the job. He batted aside questions from Chamberlain Files about the mayoral election at GBSLEP’s annual meeting last month.

But in an article in today’s Birmingham Post, Mr Street appears to set out his stall for election, and a source close to the John Lewis boss told the Chamberlain Files today that he will stand for mayor.

He says that strong leadership is essential following the referendum vote for Britain to leave the EU, arguing that the West Midlands faces a time of “political turbulence” and disruption.

Mr Street is urging regional leaders to make the delivery of the HS2 high speed rail route from London to Birmingham a priority amid speculation that the Government may delay construction or even scrap the project altogether following the Brexit vote.

He argues that the strength of the region’s businesses, new infrastructure and the “creativity and innovative nature” of its young population put the West Midlands in a position to “emerge as a victor from this time of change”.

Mr Street said in his Birmingham Post article:

Now is not the time to doubt HS2. Our job as regional leaders is to press firmly on with our plans for delivering its transformational potential.

The planned rail line was already leading to improvements to central Birmingham and encouraging the development of new industry, he said.

It is already happening and having an effect on our economy. Jobs are already being enjoyed at the construction headquarters here at Snow Hill, the National College for High Speed Rail is being built at Eastside, and across the region companies are already tendering for work.

If he does get the Conservative nomination Mr Street will be up against one of two Labour contenders , MEP Siôn Simon and former Birmingham city councillor Steve Bedser, with Mr Simon thought to be the favourite to be selected.

Winning an election based on voters in the seven West Midlands metropolitan authorities will be a tough call for any Conservative candidate. Elections across the same area for the Police and Crime Commissioner have twice returned Labour nominees, while recent council elections across the West Midlands have given Labour a comfortable overall majority.

It’s understood Labour strategists have discussed the ‘Street factor’ and concluded that while the John Lewis boss would increase the Conservative vote, his name on the ballot paper would not be enough to win an election.

The Conservative party may be hoping Mr Street will be regarded by the public as a businessman rather than a party-politician and can appeal to a wider cross section of the population.

It is likely that Mr Street, 53, will stand down as managing director at John Lewis, a job he has held since 2007, if he does succeed in getting the Conservative mayoral nomination.

He is a member of the Department for Communities and Local Government board and close to Greg Clark, the Communities Secretary and current Chancellor, George Osborne.

Mr Street may be able to use his influence with Mr Clark to beef up the powers to be handed to the metro mayor, which will be extremely limited under proposals put forward by the West Midlands Combined Authority.

A period of consultation launched earlier this week by WMCA makes it clear that the seven West Midlands council leaders will be able to over-rule the mayor on most matters.

Although the mayor will chair the combined authority and have overall responsibility for spending £36.5 million a year, the mayor’s budget and proposals for transport and franchised bus services can be rejected if two-thirds of the seven metropolitan council leaders vote against.

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