Sion Simon, Labour candidate for West Midlands Mayor
In May, we have a chance to take back control of our region from London. And it’s about time, isn’t it?
The election for the first West Midlands Mayor will see us making our own decisions about the place we live in – not politicians in London.
But it’s more than just that. It’s about restoring our pride. Because the gaps between where we think we are as a region, where we really are and where we can be in 10 years’ time are huge.
Go out now into the street – be it in Wolverhampton, Walsall, Sandwell or Dudley – stop the first person you see, and ask them what they think of the West Midlands.
Do you think they’ll tell you this is one of the most extraordinary places on earth? A place of genius stretching right across the spectrum of human endeavour, for centuries, right up till today?
Will they be boasting that this is where we built the first steam engines that powered the industrial revolution, completely changing the course of human history?
That we’re the region that built the spitfires that won the war? Or that in the West Midlands we still produce big numbers of some of the world’s most iconic motor vehicles?
I doubt they will. And yet that’s all true, and barely scratches the surface of our incredible story.
For too long, though, London politicians have put the West Midlands at the back of the national queue and not given us the powers to make our own plans for housing, infrastructure, jobs and apprenticeships.
We can be a world leader in the manufacture of electric cars, as well as self-drive vehicles. We have globally renowned universities – partnerships between them and business can create new opportunities in sectors as diverse as clean energy and life sciences, computer games and professional services. We must consolidate our place as the crossroads of England through airport expansion, HS2 construction, and metro extension. Infrastructure improvements that will bring additional employment and crucially enhanced connections – across the region, the country and globally.
We need the dynamism and hard graft of West Midlands businesses to build these new industries and jobs. With a more strategic approach to filling the skills gaps of today and tomorrow. With regional planning that clearly identifies what land is available for business and residential development. With an urgent reduction in traffic congestion and increased capacity on our roads, not least by taking ownership of the M6 Toll.
We need, in short, a new partnership in which the change-making entrepreneurship of business is aligned to political leadership at a regional level – the office of Mayor. At the moment, we are not getting some basics right. Unless we dramatically improve skills and increase the supply of new homes in the West Midlands, we will not close the inequalities within our region and between our region and elsewhere. Having the skills to get on and affordable housing genuinely being affordable are solutions to West Midlands problems within our grasp.
I’ve talked about taking back control of the West Midlands. This is exactly what I mean by this: the region fixing our own problems and taking control of our own future. And, as we do so, rebuilding our pride.