This May will mark the election of the inaugural West Midlands Metro Mayor, the head of the newly established West Midlands Combined Authority which will give powers to local leaders over everything from transport to business to regeneration, in a similar vein to the Mayor of London.
The introduction of Metro Mayors was part of the Conservative Party manifesto back in 2015, with plans to devolve national government power to cities and regions, putting power back in the hands of those running our towns and cities. They will differ from Lord Mayors, who are largely ceremonial figures, as they will be actively responsible for the strategic running of the city, the development of the area with regards to health, social issues, housing, transport, education and more, with real decision making power.
Navigate the devolution deal
Oversee far reaching issues such as transport, housing and education
Foster businesses and drive economic progress in the region
Use new powers to deliver services as local authority sees fit
Numerous candidates are running for the position, from Labour to Lib Dem to even the Communist Party. However, it is important to note that they have not been appointed by their respective parties and therefore are not dependent on their parties, nor can they be dismissed from them.
Appointed by the public, they will be held accountable as such. Metro Mayors will face harsher scrutiny and in addition will not be able to make decisions for the WMCA alone. They will be working with a Deputy Leader chosen from a constituent authority, a political advisor, and the rest of the local authority leaders to run the region.
Metro Mayor elections will now be taking place every four years, with candidates able to stand for re-election as many times as they see fit. Vying to represent Birmingham, Coventry, Solihull, Dudley, Walsall and Wolverhampton, the candidates have been campaigning to the public, who are set to vote on May 4th 2017.
The idea of a city mayor was first put forth back in 2012 but was wholly rejected by the public (with only Bristol voting for) as they did not promise any real powers. In fact, some of the public were against the idea of the new Metro Mayor as well, with many arguing that it just adds another level of red tape, bureaucracy and complication as the WMCA will act as yet another level of power.
However others have praised the move as the Devolution Deal means more power in the hands of the local leaders, those who understand the issues of the area they represent and hence know the best ways to go about providing solutions. Devolved powers may even increase over time. For this year’s Metro Mayor election, the very first of its kind, there are candidates from the Conservative Party, Labour, Lib Dems, and even Green Party vying for the highly anticipated spot.
As such, we bring you a breakdown of what each candidate is offering- with respect to social issues, economy, transport, technology, environment, local areas, housing, politics, education and health- with key points and priorities taken directly from their manifestos.
Conservative Party – Andy Street
The former John Lewis director has vowed to tackle crippling transportation fees as well as “restore pride” to the West Midlands.
- Include faith and community leaders in a Mayor Taskforce on community and integration
- Guarantee that any supplement to business rates should only be with a vote of businesses in the region
- Support the roll-out of free wifi and charging plugs on trains across the region
- Seek a globally recognised digital or tech company to set up a major operation in the West Midlands
- Support the creation of green urban spaces in major development, for examples the Duddeston Viaduct Sky Park
- Work with local authorities to make sure they have Local Plans for the whole area which deliver enough housing and employment land
- Push Government and councils to release public sector land in the West Midlands, that we can use for housebuilding
- Call for the Mayor to take over the responsibilities of the Police and Crime Commissioner in 2020
- Retain graduates who study in the West Midlands or who grew up in the West Midlands with a ‘West Midlands First’ programme
- Launch a programme of educating the public about mental health
Labour Party – Sion Simon
Sion Simon MEP has promised to create 8000 apprenticeships to boost youth employment figures in the West Midlands whilst also focusing on jobs and manufacturing.
- Oversee development of a more diverse workforce within the creative and cultural sector, especially in leadership roles
- Examine ways greater fiscal freedoms could be used to improve economic performance and competitiveness.
- Push for funding for HS2 phase 2
- Establish a tech talent pipeline…with more young people enabled to gain key digital skills and…ensure more girls are supported to develop tech skills
- Make public buildings available for community-led solar co-operative enterprises, instead of buying our energy from companies based outside the West Midlands
- Fast track…the transformation of Wolverhampton City Centre and town centres
- Agree a proper definition of “affordable housing” so that it meets the housing needs of people on low incomes
- Insisting to government that a specific West Midlands Regional Schools Commissioner…be appointed jointly by the Mayor and DFE
- Bring together our colleges and universities to create new Technical university partnerships that offer an earn-while-you-learn track to degree qualifications
- Radically redesign our approach to both the health care and social care of our older people.
Green Party – James Burn
James Burns was part of the 2009 Birmingham Living Wage campaign and has focused on investment for the more economically disadvantaged areas of the West Midlands.
- Highlight the contributions that refugees, asylum seekers, expats and economic migrants have made and continue to make to the West Midlands
- Within my first 20 days appoint a deputy mayor charged with championing inclusive growth and monitoring the creation of a West Midlands strategy for such growth.
- Bring buses back into public ownership
- Push for more pension funds to be invested in local energy technologies.
- Aim to help local authorities to come together to issue Green Bonds to assist with decarbonisation, fund low-carbon infrastructure and support our low-carbon future
- Encourage local authorities to use planning powers to protect local parks from development
- Explore the possibility of using the new West Midlands Bank to provide access to low cost loans to fund improvements to meet the Decent Homes Standard in the private sector
- Join other political leaders around the country in lobbying central government to start a national renovation programme
- Work alongside businesses to bring in voluntary targets on BAME and gender apprenticeships
- Work to help communities and organisations to become dementia friendly for example, by requiring new transport developments to take people with dementia into account
Be sure to check out the candidate’s full manifestos to fully inform yourself before voting!
Beverley Nielsen, the author of ‘Redesigning Manufacturing: Reimagine the business of making in the UK’ pledges to invest in clean energy, transport, small and medium businesses and the community.
- Promote a culture of zero tolerance of Crimes against the Person…[and] uphold the region’s values as open, tolerant and embracing the contribution of citizens of all backgrounds
- Create a £1bn Innovation fund…to provide grants to start-ups…business schools, universities and colleges
- Institute a major programme of tram extensions to develop network of destinations
- Create high craft-led and intermediate technology clusters bringing together cooperative-led growth through a new Chamber for Business Growth
- Use Clean Air Zones and Statutory Air Quality Partnerships to tackle the problems of poor quality which lead to over 4,000 premature deaths a year
- Incentivise food and car shares, Park Runs and Cycles…enabling local communities to gain street closures by accessing a new Mayor’s Charitable fund
- Campaign to remove the borrowing cap allowing local authorities to access low cost finance to build more homes for rent
- Push to have the West Midlands Police and Fire Service included within the responsibility of the Mayoral office
- Make available bursaries worth up to £5,000 to anyone living and working with SMEs or manufacturers here committed to undertaking apprenticeships or upskilling qualifications
- Make grants available for communities, micro businesses, cooperatives and mutuals providing valuable support to our senior populations
Pete Durnell began his political career in 2014 when he stood for counsellor for Bristnall. After coming a close second, he was elected to represent UKIP in Warley during the General Election in 2015.
- Provide help back into society for those who have simply ‘fallen on hard times’
- Concentrate WMCA policies on supporting small and medium sized businesses
- Continue to oppose the ‘London commuter belt extension’ (HS2)
- Ensure WMCA & Metro Mayor activities visible to the public, no secret meetings
- Incentivise preparation and use of brownfield sites, protect our green belt
- Focus on converting empty shops and offices into affordable housing
- Identify and ensure that our colleges provide courses in the key skills local employers need, in particular by increasing vocational training options
- Mitigate against the threat from the EU’s Europe 2020 – Eurocities program which may will continue well beyond Brexit, with significant economic and operational implications for the WMCA
- Enable transfer to grammar schools for children between 11 and 13 yrs
- Ensure ‘ringfenced’ funding for Mental Health becomes truly ringfenced