Ben Houchen is now tees Valley mayor. So what’s in his inbox?

Middlesbrough. Image: Getty.

The latest instalment of our weekly series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain's cities.

Think back to those heady days of early May, when Britain still had a functioning government and Theresa May stood atop the political stage like a colossus, and you may recall that we had another set of elections: local ones in which, among other things, six English regions elected their first mayors. Unlike what happened five weeks later, the Tories won those ones handsomely.

One of their unexpected victories came in the Tees Valley region – Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Darlington and so forth.  Labour’s Sue Jeffrey had put together a thoughtful prospectus for the region, considering the future of its transport, housing and economic development policies – but she’ll never get to implement any of that, because she lost by 49/51 to a Tory who promised to nationalise the airport and disband the local police. Go figure.

Anyway. Ben Houchen is Tees Valley mayor now – so what’s in his inbox? Let’s check out the charts.

As ever – the city region is in green, national averages are in grey.

Having done a few of these now, we’re starting to spot some patterns. For example: Tees Valley is another region where qualification levels have lagged the national average:

So have school standards:

Apprenticeship starts, though, are above the national average. That too is pretty common in regions with larger than average numbers of unqualified residents.

There are more familiar patterns in the economic data. Jobs growth has been slower than the average:

The employment rate is lower:

And, as you’d expect given the above, earnings are lower, too:

One way in which the region is slightly unusual is in the make up of its exports. Its goods exports per job are around the national average – but its service exports are less than half.

Click to expand, baby.

Houchen, one suspects, wasn’t quite expecting to win this election: few observers expected a region including Middlesbrough to return a Tory mayor and, with the best will in the world, his lack of manifesto suggests a limited preparation for the job.

But he’s there now – and no doubt keen to make an impact. If he were to do one thing, we’d suggest, it’s this: for heaven’s sake sort out the region’s bus network, because really this is terrible:

Click to expand.

You can find more data on the Tees Valley, and indeed other city regions, on the Centre for Cities website.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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Where did London’s parakeets come from?

Parakeets in the skies above Wormwood Scrubs, west London. Image: Getty.

Visitors to London’s many green spaces would have to be stubbornly looking at their feet to not see one of the UK’s most exotic birds.  Dubbed “posh pigeons” by unimaginative Londoners, these brilliant green parakeets stand out among the fauna of Northern Europe’s mostly grey cities.

‘Parakeets’ is actually an umbrella term referring to the multiple species, which can now be found in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and various German cities. By far the most common is the Indian ring-necked parakeet, easily recognisable by the stylish red ring around their neck, a matching red beak and, of course, the loud squawking.

In the last 50 years these migrants from South Asia have arrived and thrived, settling into their own ecological niche. In the UK, London is a particular stronghold, but although they may have originally settled in the leafy streets of Twickenham, the birds can now be found in cities as far north as Glasgow.

The story of how they ended up in London is a matter of some discussion and plenty of myth. One often reported theory is that the capitals’ current population are the descendants of birds that escaped from Shepperton Studios during filming of The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Others would tell you that they escaped from Syon Park in the early 1970s, when a piece of debris from a passing plane damaged the aviary and allowed them to escape. This chimes with their original concentration in South West London.
My favourite story by far is that they were released by Jimi Hendrix on Carnaby Street in the late 60s. Bored of London’s grey skyline, he set the little fellas free to liven up the place.

However they got here, from 1970 onwards their numbers boomed. In 1992, 700 birds were recorded in London Bird Report. By 1998, 2,845 were seen in the London Area, and by 2006 the ring-neck parakeet was 15th most sighted bird in London.

Darwin would be proud at how well they adapted to the new environment. Toughened up by the hard Himalayan climate, they handle the cold northern European winters better than most locals. Global warming is often brought up in discussions of the parakeets, but it is certainly only part of the story.
It helps, too, that the birds have a 35 year lifespan and few local predators, enabling them to breed freely.

As with any new species, the debate has raged about whether they are harmful to the ecosystem. Strangely reminiscent of the debate over human migrants, often the birds have often been accused of stealing the homes of the natives. The parakeets do nest in tree cavities also used by jackdaws, owls and woodpeckers – but there is little evidence that native species are being muscled out. 

The also provide a food source for Britain's embattled birds of prey. Owls and peregrine falcons have been know to eat them. Charlie and Tom, two city dwelling falcons monitored by Nathalie Mahieu, often bring back parakeets as food.
Of more concern is the new arrivals’ effect on plants and trees. By 2009 their numbers in the UK had grown so much that they were added to the “general licence” of species, which can be killed without individual permission if they are causing damage.

And Parrotnet, am EU funded research project studying the development of parakeet populations across Europe, has warned of the risk they pose to agriculture. In their native India, the parakeets are known to cause widespread damage to crops. As agriculture develops in the UK in line with warmer climates, crops such as maize, grapes and sunflower will become more popular. In India the birds have been documented as reducing maize crops by 81 per cent.

So the parakeets remain divisive. Environmentalist Tony Juniper has disparagingly described them as “the grey squirrel of the skies”. By contrast, the University of York biologist Chris D. Thomas has argued that the parakeets should be left free to move and breed. He sees those wary of the parakeet boom of “irrational persecution” of the bird.

For good or ill the parakeets are here to stay. As so often with migrants of all kinds, there has been some unease about the impact they have had – but the birds, popular amongst Londoners, certainly add colour to the city. Thriving in the urban environment thousands of miles from their natural habitat, they are a metropolitan bird for Europe’s metropolitan cities. 

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