Stourbridge Young Labour’s Andrew Tromans takes a look at Siôn Simon’s Labour candidacy for West Midlands Metro Mayor, and what his policies would mean for our region…
London. Bristol. Liverpool. The West Midlands? The question of whether the second biggest conurbation in the UK will elect a Labour Mayor will be settled on 4th May. Siôn Simon, Labour’s candidate in the West Midlands Mayoral election, has a strong record of standing up for our region, both as a government minister and MEP. He has pushed for the West Midlands to have greater autonomy for years – long before the Tories cottoned on to the devolution agenda. Mr. Simon has bold and ambitious plans for transport and housing, and has also recently called for the West Midlands to have its’ voice heard around the Brexit negotiating table.
Much like London, transport policy will be a key battleground for the runners and riders in the West Midlands Mayoral contest. Siôn Simon has touted several ambitious policies such as introducing 24-hour bus services on popular routes to help shift workers or late night revellers get home on public transport. Labour’s man has also proposed scrapping the charges for using the M6 Toll road. This would be music to the ears of anyone who has commuted in or out of Birmingham during rush-hour.
Closer to home, the Combined Authority that the new Mayor will chair from 8th May has already signed off on a major transport project that will provide a tram to link from Brierley Hill to the Wolverhampton-Birmingham Metroline, offering Black Country residents an alternative to using the roads to make their journeys. Furthermore, in recent weeks there has been lively discussion about undoing some of the damage Dr. Beeching inflicted upon our railways in the 1960s and reopening the Stourbridge-Walsall link.
However, it is HS2 that dominates the transport debate in the West Midlands. Optimists suggest that HS2 will bring businesses to the West Midlands and increase the value of housing. Others have grave doubts about the economic benefits that marginally quicker journey times to London will bring. Regardless, it’s certain that – if elected – Mr. Simon will work tirelessly to ensure our region gets the crucial transport investment it needs.
Addressing the housing shortage is a priority for the Labour Party both nationally and locally. It would seem that the West Midlands public agrees – a poll conducted by the Birmingham Mail suggested that residents want the new Mayor and Combined Authority to focus on housing as a matter of urgency. This concern appears to be well founded, with The National Federation for Housing suggesting that only 48 per cent of the new homes needed to meet demand were being built in 2014. At the first public hustings event for the West Midlands Mayoral candidates held recently at the Black Country Museum, Siôn Simon called for action on the ‘indefensible’ state of housing in the West Midlands and outlined his plan for a region-wide housing strategy that includes using a £200m budget to develop 15,000 new homes. This fund was granted as part of the devolution deal between Whitehall and the West Midlands. However, as Birmingham and the surrounding areas receive new funding and development, the Mayor and Combined Authority will need to ensure that a similar pattern of gentrification and “social cleansing” to that seen in areas of London does not occur in the West Midlands.
More for Birmingham?
There is a justified concern in some parts of the region that the new funding for the West Midlands through the Combined Authority will simply mean ‘more for Birmingham’. One of the key challenges for the new Mayor is to make sure the benefits of devolution touch every part of the West Midlands. This problem is compounded by the fact that residents in areas outside of the main conurbation such as Redditch and Cannock Chase will be affected by decisions made by the Mayor but will not be able to pass judgement at the ballot box. Labour’s Siôn Simon is keenly aware of this tension and has pledged to be a ‘Mayor for the whole region’. It is Mr. Simon’s vision, for example, to ensure that everyone in the region lives no more than 30 minutes away from a cultural attraction or green space.
The election on 4th May represents a huge opportunity for Labour in the West Midlands. It is an opportunity for the party to win back the confidence and trust of voters and wield executive power. It is also an opportunity to show just how different Labour’s priorities are to those of Theresa May’s Tories. A Labour victory in this historic election will be owed to the dedication of grassroots members and supporters, and we should all remember that the road to Number 10 runs through the West Midlands. It’s time to knock on some doors…