T.People in the West Midlands are harder hit by the coronavirus pandemic than most – the region saw the largest decline in GDP during the first wave, has some of the highest unemployment rates in the UK after losing more than 100,000 jobs and the Third highest Covid death rate in England – although Birmingham is the youngest major city in Europe with almost 40% of the population under 25.
As he launched his re-election campaign, Conservative Mayor Andy Street said progress in the area had been “hit by six” by the pandemic and undone much of the work to rejuvenate the economy in his first three years in office.
Optimistic that the region can quickly recover from his plans to reclaim jobs lost to Covid within two years, he says his track record shows he knows how to attract investment; “We actually got to a level here before the phrase was even invented,” he said, adding that he has invested £ 3.3 billion in the region since being elected in 2017.
His Labor rival Liam Byrne, MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill, said the region did not get its fair share of the state budget this month and needs stronger advocacy.
“We were the region hit hardest by Covid and we were only getting £ 2 per person per week. We were the only region that didn’t get a free port, we only got three-quarters of the cities’ fund money going northwest, and what’s important is that we didn’t get the critical investments we need in the electric vehicle industry, “he said said.
Andy Street, who is seeking re-election, says he is the best candidate to get the investments the region needs. Photo: Jacob King / PA
Byrne’s campaign aims to position West Midlands, which includes Coventry and Wolverhampton, at the forefront of the green industrial revolution and become the first zero-carbon region that promises “the greenest manifesto a Labor has ever seen.” -Politician has run “.
“We want to become the world’s green workshop, we have to be the place that invents and manufactures the technologies that the world needs to reduce carbon and save the planet. It could be a real way to change people’s chances in life, ”he said.
Byrne is also focused on improving the quality of life of young people, especially after youth unemployment in the region rose to 20% during the pandemic.
The May election is expected to be another highly competitive contest. Street won in 2017 by just 3,766 votes, a shock in a Labor heartland.
Other candidates in the running include Steve Caudwell of the Green, a Solihull alderman who worked for Jaguar Land Rover and Airbus, Jenny Wilkinson of the Liberal Democrats, who previously ran for MP in Sutton Coldfield, and independent candidate Ashvir Sangha, focus on youth and diversity.
The election will also be the first test of whether Labor can win back votes in the former strongholds it lost in the 2019 general election.
Byrne is optimistic, although Labor is struggling nationally in attracting voters with a vision for the future. He says, “We have tried to pave the way in the West Midlands by making history about the choices we have about the future. That is what Labor needs to do a tougher job with at the national level. “
Byrne will cease working with the May election, which coincides with the country emerging from the lockdown after a significant vaccination campaign and taking over Street, a former John Lewis executive who is known for his business background.
Labor candidate Liam Byrne. Photo: David Jones / PA Archive / PA Photos
As a low-key and private figure, Street has not made headlines like other mayors over the course of the pandemic – despite calling on the government for failing to communicate with leaders about local lockdown measures.
In contrast, Byrne sees himself as an outspoken Andy Burnham-type figure for the county if he wins. “People in the West Midlands can name Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan, but they cannot name their own mayor,” he said. “A lot of people in the Midlands feel that we are now in danger of being overlooked.”
Byrne has a long career in politics, held senior positions in government under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and admits that he has had some “ups and downs” over the years and is “humble enough to admit mistakes “. In 2010, he left his Liberal Democratic successor a message in the Treasury: “I’m afraid there is no money.”
During his tenure as Immigration Minister from 2006 to 2008, he applied controversial visa requirements for skilled migrants and launched an initiative to “create a much more hostile environment in this country when you are here illegally” which eventually led to hostile environmental policies by the Conservatives in pursued later years. Byrne said he regretted the “awkward language” he was using at the time, but that his policies were correct – “it was a tragedy that Theresa May then took a concept and used it against innocent people,” he said.
As the candidates prepare to release their manifestos in the coming weeks, the battle for the West Midlands is going to be fierce. “People want us to be leaders again,” said Byrne. “This is no time for us to be a prisoner of our humility. People want a mayor who stands up and fights for their region.”
Five key issues in the West Midlands:
The birthplace of the industrial revolution, manufacturing and engineering continue to dominate the West Midlands economy, and the region has been predicted to be particularly hard hit by Brexit – 40% of regional goods exports go to EU destinations.
The West Midlands flagship automotive sector is also under pressure as it adapts to Brexit, Covid and the move to electric vehicles. The creation of a giant factory in Coventry is seen as critical to securing the future of the industry.
The West Midlands is home to many young people, but youth welfare spending in the region has decreased by 80% over the past decade. Dozens of centers have closed, youth unemployment is high and youth violence is increasing.
A July 2020 report by West Midlands Police found that violence in public places, especially under 25s, increased week by week, and a number of shocking incidents, including the murder of 15-year-old Keon Lincoln in January, have rocked local communities.
Unemployment has risen in the West Midlands, with an estimated 160,000-180,000 jobs lost since the pandemic began, and possibly more along the way. Birmingham has the highest number of workers under the UK’s job retention program at the end of January, with an estimated 68,200 workers on leave.
In Birmingham, unemployment has risen to over 15%, almost double the national average and its highest level since 1987. Of the 10 constituencies in the UK with the highest rates of unemployment benefits five in town.
It is hoped that the HS2 rail project, along with the Birmingham Commonwealth Games 2022 and the Coventry City of Culture programs, will help boost jobs this year.
In the past four years, the Midlands have seen the fastest rise in child poverty in the UK and Birmingham has the highest child poverty rate (41.6%) outside of London.
Almost one in five boroughs in the West Midlands is in the top 10% of the most disadvantaged in England. The Trussell Trust’s network of food banks delivered 108,395 grocery packages from April to September 2020, a 45% increase over the previous year.
The second largest city in the country also had the highest universal credit use in the UK. 8.8% of the population aged 16 to 64 applied for benefits in November 2020, compared with 4.8% in January 2020.
With the entry into force of the clean air zone in Birmingham city center in June, there is increasing pressure to improve the availability of public transport and bike paths in the city and the surrounding area.
Street has an extensive subway and rail master plan that shows what the transportation network could look like by 2040. However, in recent years there has been frustration at the lack of progress.