Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.
As West Midlands Mayor, it was a privilege to welcome Conservative Party conference delegates to Birmingham last week, and to show off the delights of the Second City. And I’m very pleased to be writing this first of a series of fortnightly columns for ConservativeHome.
I hope visitors came away with a feel for the place I call home, and the sense of renaissance Brummies are currently enjoying. This feeling of change is evident everywhere; in the cultural life of the city, in the start-ups invigorating the economy, the businesses making Birmingham their home, and in the cranes that dot the skyline.
I also hope that some of those present last week were able to venture beyond Birmingham, and discover how this optimism can be seen across all the communities that make up the West Midlands – in Wolverhampton, Coventry, Walsall, Solihull, Dudley and Sandwell.
Just as conference brought our party together, I believe the success of the West Midlands is down to the willingness of these areas to work towards common goals.
As Mayor, it’s my job to enable and encourage this unified approach. We have seven distinct and proud boroughs, but through working together – with Government support – we have shown we can achieve much more collectively. In the West Midlands, we are colleagues, not competitors.
There is a new kind of conservatism developing here, in the very heart of Britain. We call it Urban Conservatism, and it is about inclusivity and opportunity for a young and diverse population. It wouldn’t be the first time that we have been the engine of change. The Industrial Revolution was born here. As the ‘workshop of the world’, we manufactured goods that were exported around the globe.
Today, people in the West Midlands are building a new kind of politics that makes the most of our greatest assets – diversity, location, work ethic and innovation. I remember how different things were when I was a kid growing up here; the derelict buildings and decaying factories. The confidence of this great region was dented. I saw what happens when people could not find work. The West Midlands was built by innovation and industry. It is a place that needs thriving businesses and entrepreneurs. That’s what made me a Conservative.
Now, through a new kind of Urban Conservatism, we are restoring local pride. During the last year, the West Midlands has enjoyed the biggest increase in jobs and seen more start-ups than anywhere else outside London. We are the only UK region to have a trade surplus with China. The West Midlands is seeing a cultural renaissance too, celebrating diversity, creativity and heritage in a melting pot of music, art and sport. And that’s before we even get to Coventry’s triumph as the City of Culture, or the Commonwealth Games coming to Birmingham!
Innovation is at the heart of this revival. The West Midlands has long been a centre of the car industry. Our Land Rovers and Jaguars continue to be globally-loved vehicles. Now autonomous vehicles are being tested on the streets of Birmingham, while electric taxis are being manufactured in Coventry. Our doctors and scientists are focused on the fight against diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s.
We have a thriving creative and media scene, inspired by the youngest, most diverse population in Europe. Indeed, we’re hoping that Channel 4 will join us in Birmingham to shape the future of broadcasting.
We will be the first region to roll out 5G technology, too. This isn’t just about mobile phones: 5G will make autonomous vehicles safer, and connect ambulances to hospitals in real-time. Government is playing a huge part in our renaissance, by investing in the people of the West Midlands. Sajid Javid and James Brokenshire have provided the funds to clean up sites that have lain derelict for decades. Greg Clark has supported our industrial future. Chris Grayling is helping us to reopen railway stations that have been dormant since the Second World War, reconnecting communities that are once again thriving.
So, after 18 months as Mayor of this remarkable place, I see real progress. But there are still too many communities not sharing the success, and that’s not good enough. There are big issues we must tackle, such as youth unemployment, rough sleeping and mental health. To win in urban Britain – as we are in this region – Conservatives must truly be a party for everybody.
We have begun to devolve power to the cities, and we must now ensure that every citizen feels the benefit of local decision making and shares the sense of unity we are pioneering here in the West Midlands. We must rebalance the UK’s economy, through projects like HS2, which is already creating new jobs, building new homes, and improving local transport. As the export capital of the UK, the West Midlands is determined to make the most of Brexit too. We are ready to become the ‘workshop of the world’ again.
The West Midlands is on the cusp of great things. In a region where you can see the whole world in seven boroughs, we are nurturing a new kind of politics that, through teamwork and shared vision, is producing real results. Urban Conservativism is delivering success, and it’s driven by the diversity which will define modern Britain.