Demands for West Midlands devolution from Westminster laid out by Mayor Andy Street

Conservative Mayor Andy Street says the the West Midlands should be competing against Barcelona, Boston and Beijing - not London and Manchester
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Andy Street says the Conservatives will lose votes in the West Midlands unless the government backs the region’s ‘trailblazer devolution deal’.

The Mayor for West Midlands, one of the most prominent Tories outside of Westminster, claimed his party cannot take the support of voters in so-called ‘red wall’ seats for granted.

In a wide-ranging interview, he admitted the troubled premiership of Liz Truss had stalled policies that will benefit the West Midlands and called on new PM Rishi Sunak to support the levelling up agenda.

He said: “When the Westminster bubble is distracted the government system goes into paralysis, and the rest of the country is left in limbo. For example, the West Midlands’ bid for cash to build more affordable homes on brownfield land remains stuck after months of negotiation.

“Our ground-breaking plans to embark on an ambitious retrofit programme remain only partially funded, and our Investment Zone proposals still have no guarantee of the 25-year business rate growth retention needed to make them work.

“These are all practical steps to make a tangible difference to people’s lives, but have got trapped without urgency in the Westminster machine. I’ve no doubt the new Government will address them, but the fundamental point is - are they really decisions that need to be taken at a national level? They are local decisions that can, and should, be taken in the West Midlands.”

Why is devolution from Westminster so important for the West Midlands?

Mayor Street told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that the “bottleneck” created by Westminster, and submitting spending bids to the wider London area, has prevented the West Midlands completing meaningful projects.

He said while Rishii Sunak “naturally has my full support” recent events have “rocked public faith in the Conservative Party, and more significantly they have also exposed some of the deeper flaws in our current system”.

Conflicting messages on whether Mr Sunak will stay the course with levelling up have circulated in the national media, with one MP claiming he will “stick to the 2019, it’s as simple as that”, while another MP said the government could break the 2019 manifesto pledges.

Describing the relationship between regional and national government, Mr Street said: “Rishi Sunak will be the fourth PM I have dealt with in five years since becoming Mayor – and I’ve learnt that so many asks are dependent on Number 10’s seal of approval. We do this as best we can, but without the powers, the cash, and the responsibility we are hamstrung.

“A new train station? Ask a civil servant in London. Want to attract an overseas investor to the West Midlands? Ask a civil servant in London. People always laugh when I tell them we are the most centralised country outside of North Korea, but it is depressingly true. The system has to change.”

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street speaks on the opening day of the annual Conservative Party Conference in BirminghamWest Midlands Mayor Andy Street speaks on the opening day of the annual Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham
West Midlands Mayor Andy Street speaks on the opening day of the annual Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham

Why are the Conservatives at risk of losing votes in the West Midlands?

Mayor Street, who once said he had “no regrets” in backing Liz Truss as prime minister, claimed if the government under new prime minister Rishi Sunak does not deliver on promises of levelling up in the West Midlands, voters will turn away from the Conservatives.

He said: “Any road to a general election win comes through the West Midlands – and there are some clear lessons to be learnt from our region’s political history.

“We were traditionally a Labour heartland, but this place felt left behind during the so-called Blair and Brown boom years – epitomised by the closure of the iconic Longbridge car factory, which is now being regenerated thanks to Conservative leadership.

“Voters noticed this lack of delivery from Labour and started to switch their allegiance – culminating in the collapse of the red wall in 2019.

“But these trends are not permanent, they are lent votes. And without delivery, these votes will start to disappear. People here expect the government to fulfil their promise of levelling up, and we risk them not voting Conservative again without it.”

David Bradford (Managing director of National Express West Midlands) & Andy StreetDavid Bradford (Managing director of National Express West Midlands) & Andy Street
David Bradford (Managing director of National Express West Midlands) & Andy Street

Should the West Midlands compete agains Barcelona and Beijing instead of London and Manchester?

Mayor Street said a devolution deal is necessary to keep voters from straying back to Labour. The deal, first discussed by Boris Johnson’s government’s under the levelling up white paper in February this year, aims to streamline Combined Authorities funding pots and develop ‘trailblazer deals’, which will build on their existing devolution settlements.

In August, Mayor Street called for ‘levelling up zones’, as well as for more sway over post 16 education, the career service, and affordable housing in talks on its ‘trailblazer’ devolution deal.

This month, Mayor Street told a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference government ministers need to be pulled “behind the arras” and stop speaking against devolution deals for the region.

“This deal was announced for our region under Boris Johnson’s regime, reaffirmed by the Liz Truss administration, and now it falls to Rishi Sunak’s Government to follow through.

“We need financial devolution so we can begin to put an end to the begging bowl culture; greater control over post-16 education so we can train our young people with the right skills to match employers’ needs; and devolved inward investment powers and funding so we can continue to attract the best international businesses and the highest quality jobs.

“After all, the West Midlands must compete with Barcelona, Boston, and Beijing – not with London and Manchester.”