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‘Must try harder’ – potential Labour challenger on Mayor’s first year

‘Must try harder’ – potential Labour challenger on Mayor’s first year

🕔08.May 2018

Dudley North MP Ian Austin has issued a ‘report’ on Andy Street’s first year in office, giving the Mayor “ten out of ten for public relations”. The Labour MP said the Mayor “must try harder” when it comes to tackling the region’s problems. 

Mr Austin has a wafer thin majority in his Dudley constituency – a Borough which was effectively taken by the Conservatives in last week’s local elections. Chamberlain Files has included Mr Austin in its working list of possible Labour candidates at the 2020 Mayoral election.

Andy’s Anniversary: two questions

Mr Austin points to ongoing issues with unemployment, homelessness and rough sleeping as well as saying that the Mayor’s most notable achievements were mainly due to work already in hand with Labour councils.

Mr Austin quotes his source as the Official Labour Market Statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), comparing employment figures for Jul 2016-Jun 2017 and Jan 2017-Dec 2017. That is indeed an increase of 5,300. 

However, comparing the 12 month periods across the full calendar years for 2017 and 2016 shows that unemployment has reduced by 4,700 in the West Midlands. Mr Street took office exactly one year ago today, five months into the calendar year.

Mr Austin does not quote a source for saying rough sleeping has increased “hugely”. The latest official figures available from the Ministry of Housing, Local Government and Communities shows that rough sleeping across the region is actually slightly down year-on-year, but with the exception of Solihull is up in every metropolitan district since 2010.

Mr Street has secured Government commitment for the West Midlands being one of three pilot areas for the Housing First scheme, but details are still being finalised.

According to Mr Austin, the problems with Mr Street’s Mayoralty are:

  • On the key issue of unemployment the West Midlands has gone backwards under Andy Street. There are 5,300 more people unemployed in the West Midlands Combined Authority area than when he took office.
  • Money promised several months ago to tackle homelessness is yet to arrive, and will come after one of the coldest winters in recent years, during which scores of people slept rough on our region’s streets.
  • The region has seen a huge increase in rough sleeping, but Andy Street’s target to tackle the problem is exactly the same as the government.
  • Despite bold promises, Andy Street failed to convince his own Conservative Government and bosses at Channel 4 to move a proper HQ out of London. The Chief Executive and top bosses will remain in the capital and there is no guarantee that the region will be home to one of the offices they set-up outside of London.
  • Building work has stalled at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, despite the Mayor pledging personally to help get work moving. The site has been dormant for well over a hundred days and the opening of the hospital could be delayed until 2022, four years after it was originally due to open.
  • The region has been successful in gaining the City of Culture for Coventry and the Commonwealth Games in 2022 but those achievements were led by Labour councils not the Mayor and work had started on the successful bids well before he was elected.
  • After years of campaigning by local councils and MPs, the government finally agreed to back the extension of the Metro to Brierley Hill, but work by transport bosses was also well underway before the Mayor’s election.

Ian Austin said:

Andy Street has been in office a year but progress so far has been pretty disappointing.

I’ll give him ten out of ten for PR, but when it comes to tackling the region’s problems, the verdict has to be: “must try harder”.

On unemployment Andy Street has failed disastrously. Over 5,000 more people are unemployed now than a year ago. Rough sleeping has soared, we’ve had one of the coldest winters in living memory, but the funds we’ve been promised by the government are still to arrive and the targets he’s set are exactly the same as the government’s.

The Dudley North MP was a local journalist before moving into PR roles in the Labour Party, including working for Gordon Brown. Some might suggest the politician has retained the ability to interpret and present figures to fit a narrative.

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