End of term report: How is Andy Street doing as mayor of the West Midlands?

Andy Street, mayor of the West Midlands. Image: Getty.

In the first of the Centre for Cities’ round up of the first half-year of metro mayors, we look at Andy Street, Conservative mayor of the West Midlands.

Back in May, the close race between Conservative candidate Andy Street and his Labour counterpart Sion Simon made the West Midlands the key political battleground of all the mayoral elections. Given that the city region is a traditional Labour stronghold, Street’s victory with a 50.6 per cent share of the vote (after the second round) was testament to the strength of his campaign, and to the strong emphasis the Conservative national leadership placed on supporting his bid.

After taking office, the former John Lewis boss wasted no time in setting out his vision for his first 100 days and a long term plan for 2020. But with six months having gone by, what progress has he made in realising this vision, and what challenges does he face?

Progress and key moment

Street kick-started his term by launching the ‘Mayor’s mentors scheme’, aimed at supporting young people to improve their skills and move into employment, and concluded his first 100 days by ticking off all the objectives he set himself for the first few months.

These included meeting with the Prime Minister Theresa May to discuss the ambitions of the combined authority. They also comprised meeting his target of 1,000 applications for his mentor scheme, and holding ‘Ask Andy’ sessions to engage with the public in areas across the city region. Street also went on a trade mission to Toronto to raise the profile of the region, and brought Robin Walker – a government minister for Exiting the European Union – to the West Midlands to discuss its future in light of Brexit.

Beyond these achievements, the most high-profile moment of Street’s mayoralty has been his address to Conservative Party Conference last month. This made him the only newly-elected metro mayor to individually address any of the party conferences, helping to raise both his profile and that of the West Midlands.

As he pointed out in that speech, “the mayor’s job is all about leadership”, and he has exercised it both on the national stage – by addressing conference – and also at the community level, where, among other initiatives, he took part in the Cure Leukaemia half marathon to raise awareness and funds. Furthermore, to promote the West Midlands across the country, Street has led Birmingham’s bid to host the Commonwealth Games and to become the new home of Channel 4, as well as Coventry’s bid to be named UK City of Culture in 2021.


Toughest challenge

One of Street’s mayoral priorities is to boost employment and improve skill levels in the West Midlands. In his vision for 2020, the new mayor pledged to reduce the number of young people not in education, employment or training to zero by 2020. And given the high number of residents with no qualifications and the low employment rate, it’s clear that urgent action is needed on this front in the West Midlands.

However, Street will have to attempt to tackle this problem without having control over the adult skills budget. That’s because the Department for Education (DfE) has delayed devolution of this budget until 2019, despite it being one of the key powers set out in the West Midland’s devolution agreement.

The mayor should therefore make the most of his existing powers to influence employers, schools and universities to work together to improve residents skills and ensure they are relevant to business needs. As we suggested in the run up to the election, this would be a first and important step to unlocking the potential of the West Midlands and its citizens.

Opportunities and future priorities

Improving transport and infrastructure will be critical in driving economic growth and opportunity in the West Midlands, and this also formed a central part of Street’s manifesto aimsAs our metro mayor dashboard shows, people in the West Midlands use public transport (both bus and train) less than the national average. This is problematic as connecting people with employment opportunities is key for the success of the region, and requires urgent action.

Street has pledged to deal with this issue by introducing smart ticketing, improving rail services and the tram system, and promoting cycling and walking. These aims offer the biggest opportunities for success for the mayor, and should be his priority in the coming months and beyond.

For this reason, it is welcome to see the mayor’s office cutting fare prices for young apprentices and trainees, and consulting on the introduction of a bike sharing system similar to the one in place in London. The mayor should now build on these initial successes by improving public transport within the combined authority, opening new bus routes and maximising the impact of HS2.

Elena Magrini is a researcher at the Centre for Cities, on whose website this article originally appeared.

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Meet the Museum of London's latest exhibit: a disgusting, giant lump of fat

A pipe clogged with lovely, lovely fat. Image: Thames Water.

The Museum of London has been teaching visitors about the capital’s history for over 50 years now. It contains exhibits on the Romans, the Plague, the Great Fire and the Blitz. It even houses the Lord Mayor’s Coach, a great red and gold thing, which horses pull about the streets of the City each November for the Lord Mayor’s Show.

So it’s presumably in keeping with this tradition, of presenting the most educational and most beautiful artefacts from London’s history, that the museum’s newest exhibit will be a congealed mass of fat, oil, grease, wet wipes and sanitary products.

The Lord Mayor’s Coach and the fatberg (left). Image: Tony Hisgett/Wikimedia Commons (coach); Museum of London (fatberg).

The “monster fatberg”, a press release informs me, is “London’s newest celebrity, and has fascinated and disgusted people all over the world”. Found in the sewers beneath Whitechapel, the entire ‘berg was over 250m long (6m longer than Tower Bridge!) and weighed in at 130 tonnes.

The Museum won’t house the entire fatberg, alas. Most of it, the press release tells me, has been converted into biodiesel, “turning a nauseating waste problem into a cleaner-burning, greenhouse gas reducing fuel which will benefit the environment”. One relatively small chunk, though, has been donated to the Museum by Thames Water to promote its “Bin it – don’t block it” campaign, which encourages Londoners to, well, you can work that part out for yourself.


So what, I hear you wondering, is a fatberg, exactly? Where do baby fatbergs come from?

Well, as the name suggests they’re the result of cooking fat, poured down sinks to congeal in sewers. Assorted wipes and napkins are also involved, playing roughly the same role that fibre does in your gut. I wouldn’t think about it too much if I were you.

In 2014, back in the early days of CityMetric when fatbergs were all the rage, we learned that there are even fatberg groupies, including a couple who had visited one in situ in the sewers as an anniversary trip. Righto.

We wouldn’t recommend that, to be honest, but if you fancy seeing a chunk of one from within the safety of the Museum of London, it’ll be on display from 2018. Knock yourselves out.

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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