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Introducing the Renaissance Mayor

Introducing the Renaissance Mayor

🕔13.Jun 2018

It’s been another milestone week for the West Midlands Mayor. 

It started with publication of the Leadership Commission report and featured a State of the Region address, marking just over one year in office. Today, here in Liverpool from where Kevin Johnson writes, Andy Street has joined Metro Mayoral counterparts to call on the Government for greater devolution over skills. 

The Mayor chose Coventry for his first annual overview. He gathered key partners together on Tuesday morning to thank them for their contribution to progress in the West Midlands. 

The event took place at Friargate, which Coventry city council leader George Duggins pointed out had benefitted from the first Devolution Deal. Cllr Duggins was unable to stay for Mr Street’s report but used the opportunity to press home Coventry issues, including the retention of three train services to London each hour. 

David Burbidge, who chaired Coventry’s successful City of Culture 2021 bid, also took to the stage to praise West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) for helping the city pip Sunderland and Paisley to the title.

Significant extra funds from the Authority and the scale and ambition of the bid had convinced the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and its judging panel that Coventry should be the name in the envelope. 

Critics of the Mayor say that he takes too much credit for regional wins. Andy Street made a deliberate point of acknowledging the Cabinet member for each strand of the WMCA’s work. None of the region’s council leaders went without a thank you and at least one photograph in the slide show. 

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Many would say that Mayors are, first and foremost, storytellers. Birmingham and the wider region has – at least until recent times – fallen short on that task. Andy Street tells a good story. 

It was the story of the region’s renaissance. 

Productivity, start ups, exports, inward investment, employment and economic inactivity, house building and public transport use were all going in the right direction. There were graphs and photos to prove it. 

But Mayor Street was careful to highlight issues as well as successes. 

Speaking a day after JLR revealed it would be moving Discovery production to Slovakia and hot on the heels of news from the High Street about Poundland and House of Fraser, Andy Street had Brexit and the High Street on his watch list. 

No one can say that the Mayor and the WMCA have not been busy. There is a new report, project, bid, commission or initiative being released by the Summer Lane team on an almost daily basis. Mayor Street highlighted several of them, including:

Transport – West Midlands Railway franchise, Metro extension, Wolverhampton and Coventry railway station developments, contactless payments and Bike Share

Economy and Innovation – Connected and Autonomous Vehicle testing, National Battery Manufacturing Development Facility and Inclusive Growth Unit

Housing – Housing Deal and Land Fund, Joint Delivery Team with Homes England, Construction Training Fund and the Brownfield Institute 

Skills – Productivity and Skills Commission, Employment Support Pilot and devolution of Adult Education Budget

Health – On the Move physical and Thrive mental health programmes. 

The breadth of activity across several portfolios presents as many headaches as opportunities to the Mayor and his team. 

Is any of it getting through? Andy Street is the first to say residents of the West Midlands do not wake up thinking about devolution or talking about the Mayor (Chamberlain Files visitors being the exception, obviously). 

Ensuring policy changes places and lives for the better – and them appreciating who or what is politically accountable – is the holy grail for politicians. The short term political cycle and the long term, strategic, often capital-related policy focus of Mayors means there is a delay between new mayoral structures and their occupants making an impact. 

Devolution: dead or default?

The fragmentation of media, technological advances, changing demographics and evolving attitudes and behaviours add to the communication challenge. 

Citizens will be quick to report they cannot find a job or congestion is stopping them reaching work on time. 

These are two issues around which the Mayor made core election promises and which are still serious challenges.

Youth unemployment remains stubborn at around 12,000 people. 

Mr Street told Chamberlain Files:

We’ve got to do much more work in preparing that group of people to move into work…pre-employment piece…employment support pilots..some money’s already coming for that…we need to do much more…

Mr Street underlined skills as the single biggest priority for further devolution.

We do need to agree with DfE…not necessarily more powers…but how there’s much more influence from the region [on developing skills for the industries where jobs will come in the future].

On congestion, the Mayor was more positive, telling Chamberlain Files that the right transport plan was in place and that the numbers show that a “modal shift” (from cars to public transport, cycling and walking) is happening. 

The region has funding for some critical road schemes.

Mr Street is working with local enterprise partnerships and universities to develop a local industrial strategy which must be with Government by July. He hopes it will attract further money from Government in this Autumn’s Budget. 

Air quality and the integration of both fire and police governance also feature as key challenges in the Mayor’s mind. 

The formal annual report will be published with papers for next week’s WMCA Board meeting. 

Mr Street, who narrowly won the Mayoral election last year on a higher turnout than predicted, was kind enough to thank Chamberlain Files – and our West Mids Elects campaign – for its work on communications around the election of the first Mayor for the West Midlands.

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