Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt have had a busy start. Whether it’s COP27 in Egypt, the G20 in Indonesia or – closer to home – the Autumn Statement, the in tray for the new Government is daunting and the challenges clear for all to see. Now is the time to rise to the occasion with a tried and tested formula that the public want to see – Levelling Up.
Alongside the much needed reassuring measures to address cost of living pressures facing so many, that’s why I was pleased to see the Chancellor flag the Trailblazer Devolution Deal discussions underway. We will be – and indeed already are – making our case that empowering local leadership with new powers and funding is a recipe for success.
Local leaders globally – be it Mayors, Chief Ministers or Governors – will play a huge collective role in the years ahead so given there’s so much they can do to lead change we must make it easier for them to play their part. Some would argue that we’re best placed – given our direct elected mandate, close proximity to the on the ground reality and frankly stability if the churn in Cabinet Ministers of the last five years is any indication.
The Chancellor was also right to go for growth. Despite all the mistakes made, the previous administration was right to highlight the pressing need to unleash our nation’s economic growth potential. As we seek to tackle the climate emergency, I think the growth focus in the 21st Century should be clean growth. Here in the West Midlands, we have shown how we can protect and enhance both livelihoods and our environment simultaneously.
For the WMCA area between 2010 and 2017, the percentage change in CO2 emissions was -20% whilst the percentage change in economic productivity measured by GVA was 35%. Our existing low carbon sector already represents a workforce of 94,000 employees across 5,100 businesses – generating £12bn of low carbon revenue per annum.
In the region I’m fortunate enough to represent, we birthed the Industrial Revolution and now we’re at the forefront of the Green Industrial Revolution – with our #WM2041 net zero commitment nine years more ambitious than the national target. Here are three examples that showcase what is underway here.
First, we’re leading the way when it comes to brownfield regeneration through our “brownfield first” policy. By building affordable eco-friendly homes on long derelict sites – unlocked and made commercially viable thanks to the cash we’ve put on the table – we’re protecting our precious greenbelt for future generations to enjoy and providing new jobs, homes and communities to thousands of local people.
Second, transport is a central pillar of cleaner greener growth. We’re helping to pioneer the Electric Vehicle technology of the future – by accelerating the provision of EV charging infrastructure, working with various stakeholders to advance our Gigafactory plans and collaborating with the likes of Jaguar Land Rover and Aston Martin whose multi-billion pound investments will drive down the cost of net zero vehicles.
It’s therefore encouraging to see the UK government providing another £211 million of funding for battery research, which will help the sector deliver 100,000 jobs directly and indirectly via the wider battery supply chain by 2040. Given that transport accounts for a third of our carbon emissions across the West Midlands, decarbonising our transport network is a key task.
Public transport is getting better thanks to new rail stations, tram network extensions and bus fare freezes. We have a popular region-wide cycle hire scheme. We’re also making sure existing transport modes are cleaner – by deploying an electric bus fleet in Coventry making it the first ‘all electric city’ and the largest hydrogen bus fleet in Western Europe in Birmingham and the Black Country. In these tough times – with cost of living challenges buffeting our economy – taking up alternative transport options makes both financial and environmental sense.
Third, we have another example of what is both a money – and planet – saving intervention which is retrofit. Our pioneering retrofit schemes are driving down energy consumption while ensuring our residents and businesses are warm, safe and comfortable. We’re currently running two Government funded retrofit projects targeting nearly 1,000 low-income households over this winter.
We’re also going beyond basic retrofit to build a series of Net Zero Neighbourhoods. The scheme will see homes retrofitted with insulation and green heating on a street-by-street basis alongside other low carbon infrastructure such as on-street electric vehicle charging points.
Our green growth leadership is just one example of why the West Midlands is an exemplar region for Levelling Up. Our role as Commonwealth Games hosts showed what we can do. I can honestly say I’ve never felt prouder to be from the West Midlands. I was always clear that this summer’s spectacle must represent a starting point and not a finish line in the rebirth of our region if we are to make the most of this moment of collective celebration and deliver a lasting legacy for the people of the West Midlands for generations to come.
There are plenty of practical steps which I’m pleased to see have already been taken or will soon be. Thousands of local residents – especially young people – gained valuable transferable skills through the Games that will stand them in good stead in their future careers, for example as volunteers, security personnel or catering staff.
From Sandwell Aquatics Centre to the revamped Alexander Stadium in Perry Barr, there is a tangible infrastructure legacy for the next generation of sporting superstars to enjoy the benefit of – not to mention the inspirational effect on young spectators of the cycling in Wolverhampton, the cricket at Edgbaston or the rugby in Coventry.
Sporting equipment from the Games is being shared free of charge with local grassroots organisations and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport recently announced that some £60m of Games budget underspend would be retained by our region to put to use to serve local residents in the months and years ahead. Legacy talk turned into action.
Alongside the sport, skills and infrastructure, we ran the Business and Tourism Programme from our ‘UK House’ base during the Games at The Exchange in Centenary Square. We worked hard to secure this trade and investment element to the Games as part of our negotiations with Government.
So I’m delighted that it was a resounding success and we’ve seen a doubling in business and inward investment leads. Indeed since the Games I’ve already led a delegation to India to ‘bang the drum’ for our region as we seek to unlock further commercial opportunities. Just imagine what we could achieve if we saw further devolution of trade & investment levers.
We’ve shown the Government that when they place their trust in us, we can deliver the goods. We can and will do so again in the months and years ahead. We’re getting on with the job here in the West Midlands. I would urge the Government to back us to deliver.