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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How getting a dog made me hate London less

A dog called Martha. Image: Jamie Ross.

I never have been anything but a staunch hater of London. Growing up in what a friend from Chicago called “a forest reserve”, my entire life has been split between a suburban one in a leafy town near Dayton, Ohio and an urban one, spent in stupidly pretty, and still fairly leafy, Edinburgh. I moved to London for a hot second in 2016, hated my job as well as my surroundings, and left, pretty much immediately.

And then, almost two years later, I was offered my current role at the New Statesman, and I packed up my shit and dragged my reluctant boyfriend with me to do it all over again. I sort of enjoyed my summer in London – but I felt strongly that living in the city would never feel like anything other than a necessary evil.

I live in – this is your moment to laugh and call me a posh prick – Notting Hill. It’s a decent location, has more trees and parks than other parts of the city, and, most importantly, is the closest I could get to replicating my old neighbourhood of Stockbridge in Edinburgh, which I loved dearly. But even this isn’t enough to entirely counteract the fact my physical surroundings, on my commute to the office by the Temple, made me feel constantly claustrophobic and stressed. London is cold and unfriendly, compared to many parts of this country, and it is filthy – not in a snobby, prissy, precious fuckhead way, but in a “My life expectancy has probably dropped by three years breathing in this polluted air and stepping on broken glass” way. For my first few months in London, in the middle of the heat wave, walking the streets was like walking through an endless sludge: this was not a city I liked nor one I, really, wanted to live in.

Until I got a puppy.

The one condition my boyfriend imposed when he agreed to trudge down to London with me was that we find a flat where our letting agreement said that we could have dog. So, three months after our move, we got Martha, a twelve-week-old black cockapoo.

Getting her changed our lives in a lot of ways. It’s made it impossible for us to leave the house without having a human being on attendance to watch her like a hawk. It means I now have to wake up at 6:45am every day, weekends included, so that she can take a shit. She has improved our lives remarkably - I mean, we have a living floof doing sweet and adorable shit in our house – but she has changed things a lot.

And the thing I least expected this goddam dog to change has been the way has made me feel more integrated into this godforsaken city: she’s made me appreciate London, even with its downsides.

Actually, something else happened, without which I don’t think my point of view would have changed. Almost immediately after getting Martha – and I mean, like, within hours – I contracted a disgusting cold. The day after that cold cleared up, I got violent conjunctivitis, like the disgusting seven-year-old I am, which took a week to get over.

These two illnesses, combined, lasted around two weeks, so I was trapped at home for roughly seven days of the ten I would normally have been at work. That meant I was around to relieve the puppy burden from my home-working boyfriend.

I was tasked with dragging my puss-filled eyes out to let our dog have a run around, and to get her to piss every couple of hours. This new responsibility forced me to explore the neighbourhood that, for the three months previous, I had generally ignored. What I thought was the worst timing known to man was, not to exaggerate, life-changing. I’m not sure I would have come to this realisation about my new home had it not happened.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Another great day at the park! Pic by fellow small creature @esther.dominy.

A post shared by Martha The Dog (@heythereitsmartha) on

Happy City by Charles Montgomery is a book all about how urban planning can make or break our wellbeing – what commutes, cars, bikes, and greenspace do to our mental health. One portion of the book is spent debunking the idea that the sheer amount of greenspace in an area is what makes us happy. Montgomery argues that it’s actually the regularity of greenspace that makes a real difference – it’s not just how much grass and trees there is in the city you live in, but how often you get to see it.


Pre-Martha, my exposure to grass amounted to the occasional lunch in a garden and a visit to Hyde Park once or twice a month. But within a matter of days of getting a dog, I learned that I had not one, not two, not three, but five (five!) piss locations within five (again: five!) minutes of my house. Some were suitable for little more than the aforementioned – but others gave her enough room to run after sticks, leaves, tennis balls, and, her favourite, other dogs, so that she’d be pleasantly exhausted for the rest of the day. What I originally thought was just an expanse of buildings and pavement stretching from my flat to Hyde Park was actually filled with pockets of green spaces that made this trash-laden hell-hole feel a lot less oppressive.

Spending time at parks where other dogs also go to piss meant I started to make relationships with other dog-owners too. For the first time in any place I’ve lived in outside of my home town, I actually started to meet my neighbours, and learn about things that were happening in my neighbourhood, that I would never otherwise never known about. I now know Tiggy, Rex, Bubba, and Charlie, as well as their respective owners. I also know about good pubs, family-run restaurants, and free events that are far better than the deeply average, pretentious brunch place recommended to me by The Culture Trip. My neighbourhood has feeling like a dead space between Tesco, my bus stop, and the tube, to a place I can see as a respite from the rest of this stressful city, full of people I know and new places I’d have otherwise not thought twice about.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Me and some new friends from the other day! Hoping for some more social time this weekend 

A post shared by Martha The Dog (@heythereitsmartha) on

And taking her out at the same time every day, around the 7am mark, means we then almost always run into the same people. A very sweet kid walks to school around the same time and always smiles at her. We see the same woman with her dog, who always greets Martha with aggressive barking, ultimately ending in a congenial ass sniff. We let her jump up at the incredibly patient builders doing construction on a building at the end of our street.

This morning ritual, seeing my neighbourhood when it’s not rammed with tourists but is quiet and reserved for people who live or work nearby, has become a way to decompress at the start of every day. And as a woman, being up and out when it’s often dark, but seeing people I now recognise, means my neighbourhood has become less intimidating. For the first time in London, I feel safe and comfortable even late at night.

Beyond the confines of my neighbourhood, Martha has made me see London, not for what it does for me, but for what it provides for her. Never have I ever had such an appreciation for London’s public transport system than when I got my dog, who wears a big stupid grin at all times when riding the bus. (Her internal monologue honestly appears to be an endless loop of, “ALL OF THIS STUFF WOW MORE STUFF OH GOD REALLY COULD THERE ACTUALLY BE MORE STUFF HELLO EVERYONE HI OH HI WOULD YOU LIKE TO PET MY HEAD?”)

Even long journeys are now a delight, because watching your puppy be amazed, fascinated, and happy at all times, eventually passing out from exhaustion at all the energy expended, is incredibly heart-warming. Faced from the bus, London, even at its busiest, feels far better with my dog than on my own: her pure, unadulterated excitement is enough to make holding a wild animal on a packed motor vehicle worthwhile.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

dad taught me love • dad taught me patience • dad taught me pain

A post shared by Martha The Dog (@heythereitsmartha) on

I’m almost certain I will never love London. I don’t think I will ever feel charmed enough by the charming parts to outweigh the onslaught of the, often, literal shit it brings with it. Not everything about having a dog in London is great, of course: there is trash everywhere, trash I used to pass nonchalantly but now have to heave my dog away from in case she eats a used condom or even another dog’s shit. And, obviously, living in a city is probably never great for an animal compared to, say, a suburb or the countryside.

But through my dog I’ve learned what’s actually around me, not just what I narrowly perceive on my begrudging walk to work. Doing that has made London feel a lot less like my own personal hell. Slowly, Martha is making London like some kind of twisted, imperfect, home for me.

Sarah Manavis is the digital culture and tech writer at the New Statesman. She tweets as @sarahmanavis.

Martha Ross-Manavis is small and cute dog. You can follow her on Instagram at @heythereitsmartha.