Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.
As Mayor of the West Midlands, I have learnt that the ability to work hand-in-glove with Government is critical to being able to deliver on the issues that really matter for the region.
Without Government support, we would not have been able to generate new jobs, create a better transport network, and build the thousands of new homes needed by our population.
And let’s be frank, one of the most important relationships is that with the Treasury – they, after all, hold the purse strings.
Devolution of power gave the regions the ability to make key decisions locally, but a close relationship with the Treasury is vital to get the funding to enact those plans. A huge part of any Metro Mayor’s job is banging the drum in Whitehall to win that investment.
I have been pleased to previously work with Phillip Hammond and Sajid Javid, both of whom are proven friends of the West Midlands. Since I became Mayor, we have brought in £2.3 billion of new Government money, prising it out of the Treasury. The results of that spending are reflected all around us in the West Midlands, not only in the new infrastructure and transport projects, but in the strong economic growth we have seen.
Now we get to work with the new Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, who was widely tipped as a rising star of Government. On Saturday he demonstrated an early commitment to the West Midlands by coming to the region to meet with me and the business team.
I took from that meeting that he has a clear passion for the Government’s commitment to “levelling up“ the regions and an understanding that it has to be followed up with serious cash. For my part, I was keen to stress that “unleashing our potential” is all about investing in opportunities here, and we will deliver for UK plc.
This budget may also illustrate for the first time that Whitehall is willing to change investment guidelines that have benefited the South East for decades, to the detriment of the rest of the UK. Known as the ‘Green Book’, these Whitehall rules are said to impose a bias on investment towards London, by pumping public cash to areas where productivity and prosperity are already higher.
After years of talk about rebalancing the economy, the time has come for us to rethink these rules. The voters who backed us expect to see the UK economy levelled up. It’s time to put our money where our mouth is.
For the West Midlands, that means a shopping list for the Budget on March 11th that will allow us to build on the successes working with Government has already achieved. First of all, we must continue our mission to create a world-class transport system across the conurbation, to tackle congestion, improve air quality, and attract jobs and businesses.
Work on Metro extensions is already underway in Birmingham and Dudley. We need to step up the pace and secure support for the next phase – through East Birmingham and out to Birmingham airport. By building this tram line, we will be able to create a corridor of prosperity giving people better access to the jobs and opportunities being generated by our growing economy, and attracting investment into communities who have been isolated by a lack of connectivity.
Sticking with transport, we are already leading the way in reversing the Beeching cuts to the nation’s railways. Proposals to re-open stations in South Birmingham and Walsall have already reached the planning permission stage.
Now we need the funding to go full steam ahead to open more new stations and boost public transport in communities that haven’t had a station for over 50 years. This spending would provide tangible evidence of levelling up in action, improving the lives of residents, boosting civic pride, and delivering footfall to high streets.
These old railway lines also need reopening to support our new housing and regeneration sites across Birmingham, Coventry and the Black Country. Our ‘Brownfield First’ housing policy is delivering thousands of new homes on once derelict sites, while helping to protect the Green Belt. We have a proven ability to deliver much-needed homes quickly, with a surge in house-building of 40% in just two years. Of the 17,000 houses built last year, three quarters were on brownfield sites.
The good news is we still have an abundance of old derelict areas that can be decontaminated ready for new homes – and a pipeline of developers keen to start construction. We want to see the investment released to continue the ground-breaking work of Brownfield First.
Finally, as the West Midlands continues preparations for the Commonwealth Games in 2022, we want to invest in a programme that ensures the event brings new businesses and lasting jobs to the region. The Games offer an incredible opportunity to showcase our region to the world, and we are determined to take full advantage of the international interest they will generate. That work will start this year, at the Dubai World Expo.
Before, during, and after the Games, we have planned trade and investment shows, activities to attract businesses, and promotional activity to extend tourism to the wider Midlands region, but these currently have no funding in the Commonwealth Games budget.
Backing this ambition to creating an economic legacy after the Games would provide a tangible, social example of levelling-up beyond infrastructure investment.
I am looking forward to a budget on March 11th that continues to demonstrate that we have a Government, and a Mayor, determined to work together for our region, as we have done for the last three years.
We have a proven track record of using Government money to deliver jobs, transport, and housing, in innovative ways. We have shown that we have the ideas and the methods to level-up the country. By continuing to back us with real investment, the Government will send a vote of confidence in the power of local decision-making.