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Mayor Street ticked off with Department for Education

Mayor Street ticked off with Department for Education

🕔05.Oct 2017

Andy Street toured the Conservative Party Conference with his trademark restless energy and optimism, commodities in short supply at this week’s gathering where Chamberlain Files spent the week. Mayor Street broke with his usual approach of not publicly criticising Government and took aim at the Department for Education (DfE), writes Kevin Johnson

Speaking alongside fellow Mayors for the Tees Valley and West of England, Ben Houchen and Tim Bowles, Andy Street delivered a self assessment for the West Midlands Combined Authority on transport, housing and skills.

He said there was not even an inkling of a ‘tick’, against skills, where transport was given full marks and housing rated the “beginning of a ‘tick’ in pencil.”

The Department for Education is “not playing our game” Andy Street told a fringe meeting on the Future of Urban Leadership organsied by Centre for Cities and sponsored by The University of Warwick.

Mr Street said “we’re nowhere on skills” in respect of devolution and that it is a “real problem.” Devolution of the adult skills budget, which was part of the first devolution deal, has been delayed until 2019. Focusing on the DfE, Mr Street said:

It’s not good enough.

Mr Street also called on business to come forward on addressing the skills challenge. But, his main criticism was reserved for the government department in charge of skills which was not making engagement productive for employers.

The DfE came in for repeated criticism across fringe events on skills. At the Centre for Cities event, Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said the department needed to “move faster.”

The Mayor of the West Midlands told the main Conference Hall on Monday that “addressing the skills challenge is my priority”, something of a new direction for Mr Street.

He is pinning his hopes on his friend Greg Clark, the Business Secretary, delivering on a place-based Industrial Strategy that will have a heavy focus on technical education.

Mr Street said he wants addressing the skills challenge to be the Government’s priority too. In the Prime Minister’s dream-turned-nightmare speech to Conference yesterday, she committed to:

Taking skills seriously with new T-levels for post-16 education, a new generation of Technology Institutes in every major city in England – providing the skills local employers need, and more technical training for 16-19 year olds.

A first-class technical education system for the first time in the history of Britain.

READ: Addressing the skills challenge is my priority 

Mr Street told the packed fringe meeting on Tuesday that the West Midlands would rise to the challenge, as it always does by, developing a business case and approaching skills in the context of the Industrial Strategy. He highlighted the need for a better funding system and key performance indicators.

Professor Stuart Croft, Vice Chancellor at the University of Warwick which helped to stage the gathering of new Mayors, was given the task of pitching ideas and challenges to them on skills.

Prof Croft highlighted the imperative of tackling productivity; the need to retain or encourage graduates to return to the region; to “include the excluded” and the importance of developing more degree apprenticeships.

Prof Croft underlined the need for a new framework for skills in the region, with universities playing an even greater role.

Mr Street promoted the HS2 message around the Conference – and the £4.4 billion connectivity package that aims to put everyone in the urban West Midlands within 40 minutes of accessing the high speed line.

But he stressed more transport investment was needed and new forms of capital funding would have to be developed. The region would need to mirror the success of Enterprise Zones through innovative finance models for transport.

Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference, Mr Street twice went out of his way to credit Labour leaders in the West Midlands – including on housing.

The Mayor said local authorities were now moving beyond their stand off with a process agreed to deal with housing and employment land challenges with the Land Delivery Action Plan agreed at the last WMCA Board Meeting. He repeated his view that statutory spatial planning powers are not required.

Mr Street told the fringe audience that the region needs at least 165,000 new homes. It is not clear that Mrs May’s housing policy offer yesterday, which some experts suggest will amount to between 5,000 and 8,000 more homes per year across the country, will make a significant difference.

Unlocking funds from government schemes and finding ways to achieve ‘value capture’ in the region’s land were the next steps, according to the Mayor.

In a wide ranging question and answer session, which also involved Michelle Dix, Managing Director of Crossrail 2 and Toby Lloyd, Head of Housing Development at Shelter, Mr Street ruled out healthcare devolution and suggested that the WMCA and its constituent councils would want to “step in” with ambitious targets on air quality.

Responding to Ms Dix, who was Transport for London’s co-director of congestion charging, Mr Street seemed to rule out a similar charge for the West Midlands. Instead, he suggested, commitments to air quality and investment in public transport would act as the drivers for reducing congestion and its economic and environmental impact.

Warwick’s Vice Chancellor said the region would need its own foreign and economic policy, working closely with central Government, with even greater emphasis on international promotion.

Prof Croft also said that much more work is needed on articulating the different levels of place and inward investment brands currently operating in the West Midlands.

Echoing a common theme found on the fringes at both Brighton and Manchester, Prof Croft said that the “future of work is going to change dramatically.”

Mr Street said he wanted the West Midlands to be the home of new technology in transport and the reason for his “obsession” with re-locating Channel 4 was because of its potential catalytic effect on the West Midlands economy. However, he said he did not see the case for large relocations of Whitehall departments and civil servants around the country.

Mayor Houchen, who impressed Tory audiences at a number of fringe events, stressed the need for Metro Mayors to deliver with short term successes. The public would only begin to “buy into” the new Mayors if they saw them making a difference to their lives.

With skills now Mayor Street’s priority, he has his work cut out to deliver – especially in the short term. His hard line approach to securing reforms and devolution at the DfE is a sign of the challenge he faces.

Pic: Andy Street by @Paul_Swinney – Principal Economist, Centre for Cities

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