In an exclusive piece for DevoIntelligence, Mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority calls on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to deliver further powers to the UK’s city regions:
From his victory speech on the steps of Number 10 to his interventions in the Commons, Boris Johnson has brought with him a renewed sense of optimism and purpose.
His message is one of unity, which reaches out to the country as a whole. The PM has spoken of doing for city regions what he did for London, and I now look forward to him delivering on that pledge.
With the West Midlands firmly on a path to revival, we need a PM who is wholeheartedly committed to breathing new life into the devolution agenda and empowering our city-regions.
Mayors provide residents with a visible leader. Someone who can act as a focal point, offering their undivided attention to local citizens and local priorities.
Their clear powers create equally clear lines of accountability, helping them to build a dynamic of trust within their communities.
To make metro-mayors more fleet of foot – and help them play to their individual region’s strengths – more decisions need to be made locally.
When many of the everyday decisions that affect people’s futures are made by those in Westminster who don’t have a full grasp of local dynamics, the end result is dissatisfaction, disengagement and apathy.
To tackle the pockets of low engagement and aspiration that exist up and down the country, decisions must be made as close as possible to those they are affecting – not hundreds of miles away in London.
To this end the Government should transfer day-to-day responsibility from Whitehall to combined authority mayors in areas such as affordable housing, the skills budget, and employment programmes. That way we can focus our efforts on the areas and people that need it the most.
It can’t be right for mayors to have to lobby the Government every time they choose to pursue a new policy or require extra funding – regions must have the resources and tools at their disposal to tackle these challenges for themselves.
And although we are undeniably on the right path, progress on the devolution agenda has been slower in the last two years. The time has now come to review what more is needed to drive success.
I firmly believe that further empowering our city-regions is key to relaunching the UK economy as a whole.
We must return our great cities to being engines of growth for our country, the rocks upon which our prosperity stands.
The way to do that is through greater autonomy. And with a focus on infrastructure, housing and innovation, we can rebalance the economy and create more and better jobs for our residents.
We know that improvements in transport infrastructure help spread access to opportunity and encourage inward investment into isolated communities.
That is why in the West Midlands we are re-opening train stations that have been closed for 50 years, secured a huge expansion of the Midland Metro and implemented strategic road investments. With greater powers and extra funding, we can do more to spread wealth and opportunity.
The availability of housing – and in particular affordable housing – presents another major challenge for the country and its regions. Of the 14,500 homes built in the West Midlands last year, only 18% were classed as affordable. We are pushing the Government to address this – as it is clear that more must be done to ensure developers and councils prioritise housing which everyone can afford.
And to keep abreast with the pace of change, we must ensure that we put technology and innovation at the heart of everything we do.
Here in the West Midlands we have launched a “Beat the Bots” fund to help train the region’s workers for jobs in our booming digital industry, as advances in technology threaten thousands of jobs in catering, hospitality, driving and agriculture. Young people are also being taught a creative approach to coding and computer science at the School of Code in Birmingham, while we as a region are leading on efforts to build electric vehicles and the batteries needed to power them.
Being at the vanguard of new and pioneering industries is critical and must be at the heart of the PM’s economic strategy.
Devolved powers, and a focus on the issues that matter most to our communities, are the key ingredients to relaunching our economy and improving the livelihoods of our residents.
The London mayoralty has grown in maturity steadily over 20 years, and this new wave of metro-mayors must be afforded the same time and trust.
As a two-time Mayor of London, Boris understands better than most how localism can set cities on the right course.
He has shown what an empowered Mayor can do for London, now we need him to show what empowered Mayors can do for the rest of the country.