Boris Johnson has been swept back into Number 10 with a resounding victory and a thumping majority. It was a great win for the Conservatives nationally, driven by a coherent central message clearly communicated by party members across the land.
Here in the West Midlands, we saw six gains – two in Wolverhampton, two in West Bromwich (including Tom Watson’s former seat), one in Dudley North, and another in Northfield, Birmingham. This means that 14 of the 28 seats in the metro West Midlands are now blue, a huge step forward, and one on which we can build in the future.
After considerable success in the last local elections, the Conservative brand has perhaps never been stronger in the West Midlands. But now the work begins. We have to deliver.
The Prime Minister was right to say many voters have only ‘lent’ us their votes. We must now earn that trust, by ensuring the benefits of life in a post-Brexit Britain reach all communities.
Here are ten West Midlands priorities I think the PM and his team must tackle to help build on our success.
1) Confirm HS2 and get building
HS2 will play a central role in spreading prosperity across the nation by drawing investment into the cities it will serve. A recommitment to build HS2 is essential to raise our productivity, ignite our regions and keep us competitive on the world stage.
In the West Midlands, we are already seeing investment as a result of HS2, but uncertainty over its future is putting that at risk. Sites have been prepared for the next phase of building. It is time to commit fully, and galvanise our construction industry.
2) Fund our Metro vision
Our campaign correctly argued that improving local transport infrastructure helps spread access to opportunity, as well as encouraging investment into isolated communities. In the West Midlands, expanding our Metro network is our Crossrail. It’s our opportunity.
Passenger numbers have been steadily growing, passing the seven million mark for the first time last year. However, there is still much more for us to do to achieve the kind of transit system we need. The Prime Minister has spoken about creating London-style transport systems for the Midlands and the North. We share his vision and are ready to get onboard – now.
3) Take a new look at rail
The West Midlands already has a strong local train network, and passenger usage is well up on last year, in contrast to London and the North.
One of the most eye-catching ideas of the election campaign was the ambition to reverse the Beeching cuts of the 1960s. We are already making headway on this in the south of Birmingham and the Black Country, reopening stations to link isolated communities to opportunity, with a further phase of re-openings identified in Wolverhampton and Coventry. Extending this will illustrate that we will not allow communities to be left behind.
4) Back a West Midlands Gigafactory
The West Midlands is the natural home of the UK’s automotive industry, based around the flagship that is Jaguar Land Rover.
Now this crucial industrial sector is switching to electric cars and a Tesla-style Gigafactory is needed to build the batteries to power those new vehicles (and the rest of the electric industry).
The Government has already played an important role in helping make the West Midlands competitive in this race, investing £108million in a Battery Industrialisation Centre in Coventry.
We must give the Gigafactory the best chance of success by building it in the heart of the West Midlands cluster.
5) Redouble Brownfield land funding
The West Midlands, like the rest of the UK, needs to build more homes – but we have come to realise that where we choose to build them can bring multiple benefits.
Our ‘Brownfield First’ policy addresses not only the housing crisis, but the economy, the skills gap and the environment – under a policy that puts Brownfield development before building on the Green Belt.
It is a policy that is delivering the homes we need, generating tax returns by building new commercial premises, kick-starting the construction sector, creating skills training hubs and protecting our Green Belt by reclaiming old derelict land.
The figures speak for themselves – nearly 17,000 homes were built during 2018/19 – a 15 per cent rise on the previous year and twice the national average increase.
It is vital we have the funding to carry on what we have pioneered through ‘Brownfield First’.
6) Increase Local Housing Allowance
Freezing local housing allowance whilst private rents have increased is one of the key drivers behind homelessness.
The Chancellor has pledged millions to help tackle rough sleeping, and here in the West Midlands our Housing First programme is already providing a home for more than 100 homeless people.
But the Government must look again at Housing Allowance – the element of universal credit paid to those who need it to rent a safe place to live. Losing a private tenancy as a result of getting into arrears is the most common reason for becoming homeless. These changes would make an immediate and significant difference.
7) Review business rates to help high streets
As someone who spent 30 years in retail at John Lewis, I understand the challenges facing the UK’s high streets.
While a number of factors are behind the challenges faced by traders – changes in consumer habits, the explosion in online shopping – business rates need a fundamental reform to back our town centres by ensuring a level playing field.
Business rates are currently based on the rateable value of properties, which makes High Street buildings much more expensive than warehouses outside of town centres.
This must change. There is an urgent need to push on with the promised review.
8) Devolve further powers
Here in the West Midlands, our economy is growing faster than any other outside London. Devolution has driven growth everywhere it has been embraced, from Liverpool to Cambridge. It is time to bolster and extend the devolved powers that are helping the UK’s regions to grow, so that we can compete on our own terms with the likes of Rotterdam and Chicago.
As the Prime Minister looks for potential areas of growth, he must conclude that there is huge potential in our city regions to be unleashed.
Our new Conservative voters want to see more local influence, with big decisions made outside London. This could start with the full devolution of business rates – with the West Midlands as the pilot.
9) Show our commitment to the Police and NHS
With the General Election over, it is time to deliver on the Conservative promises that helped redraw the political map of Britain.
That means pushing through with the ambitious recruitment programme for the police, and the pledges – such as changes to stop and search policies – that will make our streets safer.
It also means proving that our commitment to the NHS is steadfast, by increasing nursing numbers and building the hospitals we have promised.
In the West Midlands, the recent green light to recommence work on the stalled Midlands Metropolitan Hospital, in Smethwick, provides a taster of what is needed to secure the future of the nation’s best-loved institution.
10) Grant a public inquiry into the Birmingham pub bombings
Finally, I have come to the conclusion that after 45 years, the time is right for a panel-led, public inquiry into the Birmingham pub bombings.
The pub bombings remain the darkest night in Birmingham’s recent history, and, despite a huge reconciliation effort, we now need full closure, especially for the bereaved families. As with the Hillsborough tragedy, only a public inquiry will provide the answers that the families deserve.
I believe a Government-backed inquiry would be welcomed by all of the communities of the West Midlands, in the Second City and beyond.
These are ten things I believe the new Government should address to show their commitment to a region which turned decisively towards the Conservatives.
People are hungry for change in their local communities. With our new mandate, we Conservatives can provide that change with energy, investment and practical ideas.
It is time to not only deliver on election promises, but to show those that placed their faith in us for the first time at the polling stations that we will govern for them, to repay their trust.