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‘I’ll create jobs, improve schools and make buses run on time’, says mayoral hopeful Sion Simon

‘I’ll create jobs, improve schools and make buses run on time’, says mayoral hopeful Sion Simon

🕔06.Mar 2012

English: * Birmingham Skyline from the west Se...

Sion Simon has become the first of the contenders for elected mayor of Birmingham to issue detailed policy pledges, by promising to create 30,000 new jobs, improve standards in schools, invest £100 million in business creation, and even make the buses run on time.

He would also oversee the building of at least 20,000 affordable family homes and order the city council to stimulate employment by buying vehicles, goods and services from smaller Birmingham-based firms wherever possible.

Mr Simon, the former Labour MP for Erdington, chose the unlikely surroundings of an unheated warehouse in Hockley, the headquarters of Cleone Foods, purveyors of specialist Jamaican delicacies, to launch a 10-point plan for consultation.

In a speech that appeared to lean heavily on the American Dream, Mr Simon said Creone Foods was an example of a small business that could be started by immigrants from nothing and end up employing 50 people and exporting West Indian patties all over the world. The firm represented “the real Birmingham where real people make things”, he added.

In a similar vein, paying tribute to one of his key supporters, Mr Simon praised Perry Barr Labour MP Khalid Mahmood who had arrived in Birmingham at the age of eight from “the mountains of Kashmir, unable to speak English”, and had risen to become a member of parliament at the age of 40.

Mr Simon repeated the theme of his campaign so far, which is that Birmingham is failing to punch its weight locally, nationally and internationally.

He continued: “There is no limit to what we can achieve. We have massive potential as a community and as individuals.

“But this is a potential we don’t always meet as a city.  I love Birmingham, but sometimes I am also disappointed that we don’t fulfil our potential.”

The chance of Birmingham getting an elected mayor was a once in a generation opportunity to “seize back control of our own destiny and start to make a difference”, he told an invited audience of Labour members and backers.

Mr Simon said his plan, the result of two years of conversations with voters on their doorsteps, reflected the wishes of Birmingham people. Tackling structural unemployment was the main priority. “It’s all about jobs in Birmingham”, he declared.

However, when questioned about his plans, he accepted that some initiatives would depend on the mayor being handed powers from Whitehall.

In particular, a promise to make buses and trains more affordable, better integrated, cleaner and more reliable would be dependent on the Government handing the mayor London-style franchise powers to regulate local transport. Mr Simon said it was “madness” that anyone could run buses in Birmingham regardless of the quality of service they were offering.

The mayor would have to build coalitions of support and demonstrate to the Government that Birmingham could handle devolution of powers responsibly, putting the case bit by bit and gradually obtaining freedom from central control, he stressed.

He also admitted that a pledge to create 30,000 new jobs through an aligned inward investment and export trade programme simply repeated an existing employment creation target set out by the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership.

A promise to make sure every primary and secondary school in Birmingham meets minimum Government targets for attainment would be a “big ask” and would depend on giving better support to teachers and pupils. At the moment, 42 per cent of school leavers do not have five A*-C grade GCSE passes including English and maths, a failing that is contributing to the city’s skills crisis.

He said the significance of his jobs and housing pledges was that he would be judged by the electorate after four years in office.  “The voters will be able to decide whether I have delivered.”

Critics of his Buy Brummie campaign, who point to legal difficulties preventing councils from favouring local firms, had contracted a “national illness”, Mr Simon insisted.

He added: “We are the only car manufacturing country in the world where British Government ministers until recently drove around in foreign-made cars. It wouldn’t happen in France or Germany, and it shouldn’t happen here.”

City council lawyers would be instructed to “sort out the trivial details” to allow the local authority to procure more goods and services from local firms, he added.

Other pledges announced by Mr Simon included:

  • To reduce Birmingham’s “unacceptably high” death rates among babies, older men and those living in poorer areas.
  • Invest over £100 million in small and medium sized businesses by launching a Birmingham Innovation Bank.
  • Fight police cuts by working with the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner.
  • Transform the city council into an efficient organisation that staff and citizens can be proud of, with “warmth” and devolution as guiding principles.
  • Ensure free, open and easy public access to all information and data created by the council.

Declaring that if he became mayor his office “would definitely not be in the Council House”, Mr Simon said he would improve the council’s public satisfaction rating by more than 10 per cent during his first four-year term in office.

“Every time the council talks to the people of Birmingham, it will give all the facts in a clear language, with a smile,” he added.

Mr Simon also promised to serve no more than two terms as mayor, adding that he would be too old in his 50s to do an effective job.

Two other Labour candidates are seeking their party’s nomination to stand for elected mayor of Birmingham. They are Edgbaston MP Gisela Stuart and city council opposition leader Sir Albert Bore. Former cabinet member Liam Byrne, the MP for Hodge Hill, is believed to be considering putting himself forward.

No Conservative or Liberal Democrat candidates are expected to declare before the result of a referendum to decide whether Birmingham will have a mayor is known in May.

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