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PROSPER MAGAZINE: DIGITAL EDITION

MAYORAL ELECTIONS

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REGION’S CHAMBERS SPELL OUT PRIORITIES FOR MAYORAL ELECTION

A new manifesto setting out the priorities and recommendations in advance of the election for a West Midlands Mayor was recently published by the region’s three Chambers of Commerce.

The blueprint was written in partnership between the Black Country Chamber of Commerce, Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce (GBCC), and Coventry & Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce.

Rebounding for Business:

Vision for the West Midlands Mayor outlines the actions the three Chambers want the elected Mayor to deliver, including:

  • Leading the region from pandemic survival to economic revival

  • Making the West Midlands the most business-friendly region in the UK

  • Developing a transport network fit for the 21st century

  • Helping businesses adapt to the post-Brexit landscape

  • Making the West Midlands the number one destination in the country to visit, work and live post-pandemic

  • Transforming the West Midlands through investment in the green economy and encouraging environmentally sustainable business practices

Neil Anderson, Head of External Affairs at the Black Country Chamber said, “The Chamber network across the region represents over 5,000 businesses and is a powerful lobby for our members. The manifesto promotes pro-business policies for candidates and calls for action across key areas which limit growth or productivity.

“The manifesto joins our very own Black Country 2.0 campaign launched a few weeks ago, and further amplifies the voice of the Black Country and ensures that the region’s business needs are being listened to at the highest levels, providing a collective approach for the Black Country region to reboot, rebuild and rebound.

“We delighted to partner with our fellow Chambers to set out the vision we want to see delivered by the West Midlands Mayor over the next four years, it allows us to continue our work as the voice of businesses in the region.

“Time and time again, the Chamber has proved its credentials as the leading business support agency within the region and this document sets outs out some of the key priorities and actions, we believe will have the strongest positive impact on the business community as the region looks to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic on a surer footing".

LOCAL ELECTIONS 2021

MAYOR OF THE WEST MIDLANDS - WHO'S STANDING AND WHAT DO THEY BELIEVE IS CRUCIAL FOR BUSINESSES ACROSS THE REGION?

The West Midlands mayoral election is deemed to be a microcosm of the wider political climate across the country. In 2019, the Conservative Party gained ground in many traditionally Labour Party strongholds, now in the first real test of public opinion since the general election, residents in the West Midlands are about to head to the polls on 6th May.

Prosper spoke to each of the five candidates and asked about their plans to get the West Midlands back on track and unleash the region’s potential for businesses.

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Andy Street, Conservative

Andy was elected as the Combined Authority’s first Mayor in 2017 and is the former Managing Director of John Lewis and Chair of the Greater Birmingham Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership.

“On May 6th, the people of the Black Country face a critical choice: do we accelerate the progress of the last four years, or do we go back to the old failing approach which led to decades of decline for our region?

Before COVID struck, the West Midlands had begun to reclaim its place as an economically successful region, after decades of stagnation. As we come out of the pandemic, there is much to do to ensure we don’t throw away those years of progress. 

The significant strides made here since I was elected Mayor on 4 May 2017 are borne out by the statistics. From 2017-2020, a record-breaking 48,098 homes were built here, nearly double the 25,000 target set in 2017. 

This year, the level of transport investment was seven times higher than in the year before I became Mayor. More than 97,000 new jobs were created in the region overall in the three years before the pandemic, the most of any region outside the capital. 

Over £3 billion of new funding was brought in from Government. This has been achieved thanks to my background in business as the MD of John Lewis. To win investment, you have to build a business case and show how you will deliver it.

Now, however, sectors like retail, hospitality and manufacturing have seen thousands of workers laid off or furloughed. We must act quickly to get back on track post COVID. 

That’s why my first priority will be to create more than 100,000 new good quality local jobs and training opportunities for local people.

That means winning every possible contract for local businesses from major regional projects like HS2 and the Commonwealth Games.

It also means securing an electric battery Gigafactory for our region, bringing 4,000 new jobs and protecting thousands more in the automotive industry and supply chain. 

I want our region to become the national leader in construction, engineering, life sciences, technology, 5G and other growing industries.

 

I have plans to double transport spending to half a billion pounds per year. On housing, I will build thousands of new homes where they are wanted. That means continuing our successful “brownfield first” approach, with over £400 million of funding to reclaim derelict sites, protecting our Green Belt and boosting construction.

 

The Black Country is key to the success of this policy, and Wolverhampton is becoming the national centre for this exciting new science.

I will launch a programme to retrofit people’s homes with energy efficiency measures to reduce fuel bills and carbon emissions, bringing huge opportunities to the businesses and trades employed to carry it out.

I will use a business-like approach to tackle the challenges facing the high street. Our town centres have already won over £100 million of Government funding, benefitting places like Brierley Hill, Rowley Regis, Smethwick, West Bromwich, Walsall and Wolverhampton.

My message is simple: I have a credible delivery plan to make all of this happen, and a proven track record over the last four years, beating our targets and other city regions on investment, skills and housing.

My commitment is to secure £10 billion of new investment into the region, from both the Government and private investors, with a clear business-like approach to the Mayor’s role as a regional champion.

 

That means working with Government to make things happen, rather than criticising and grabbing headlines, and then being ignored.

I grew up here. Local values shaped me as a person – that’s why four years ago I decided to step away from a career in business and stand to be Mayor. I urge the people of the West Midlands to choose me to get on with the job, get this region back on track and unleash our potential.”

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Jenny Wilkinson, Liberal Democrats

 

Jenny is a Forensic Accountant and has worked at KPMG for more than 20 years. She stood as the Liberal Democrat candidate for Sutton Coldfield in the 2019 general elections.

 

“Recovering from the wide-ranging effects of the pandemic is absolutely key for us all. The pandemic has had a huge impact across our region in terms of health, mental health and the economy, and this comes on top of the additional business challenges and increased bureaucracy arising from Brexit.” 

Jenny is focusing on three key areas to rebuild the West Midlands economy:

Green Recovery

“The West Midlands should be at the heart of the green revolution. This provides a huge opportunity for us to revitalise our manufacturing sector. We have the opportunity to develop the new technologies for the green industries of today and tomorrow, to bring manufacturing expertise back to its home.

As well as manufacturing, there are significant business opportunities in building the infrastructure needed, such as installing electric vehicle charging points, insulating and converting the energy supplies of our homes, and constructing sustainable new buildings.

To support this focus, I would provide targeted financial support to innovative, entrepreneurial businesses contributing to carbon pollution reduction, nature restoration and the growth of the green economy.”

Business Support

“Dynamic, entrepreneurial businesses are a force for good: entrepreneurs, the self-employed and small businesses form the backbone of local economies.

 

A model of responsible capitalism generates good jobs, shares prosperity and sees businesses promote rights and protect the environment. Growing our own homemade business success and creating thousands of new jobs through active engagement by the public sector in our regional economy is vital. This will drive inclusive wealth creation across the West Midlands.  

 

Looking at how the pandemic has affected businesses across our region, while certain aspects of the Government’s business support schemes have been good, such as the furlough scheme, they have been lacking in certain areas. The Liberal Democrats have been calling for additional support for our small business owners, entrepreneurs and freelancers.”  

Jenny believes more support should be provided to small businesses struggling with cash flow and debt, including:

  • A revenue compensation scheme, giving urgent support to cover fixed costs;

  • Extending business rates relief, VAT reductions and tax deferrals to avoid a potential cliff-edge; and

  • Extending the Bounce Back Loan Scheme, as well as extending the period before businesses have to repay their loans.

Skills

“With the West Midlands facing some of the highest unemployment rates in the country, skills development needs to be a priority area of focus. 

I would focus on hugely expanding life-long learning, to enable an adaptable, future-focused workforce, with people retraining and upskilling where needed, bringing together schools, colleges,

universities and businesses, as well as learners and workers, to re-focus learning and skills training to deliver for the real world. 

To support young people and the under-or un-employed from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, I would provide firms that work with schools and colleges in deprived areas with preferential terms on grants and reduced rates, with a view to driving up numbers of local internships, secondments and business placements.

 

We should also be making much wider use of apprenticeships. There is funding available, and we need to unlock it to encourage businesses to do more to create and promote more varied and high-quality apprenticeship opportunities, linking with schools and colleges to facilitate a transition from education into work.”

Conclusion

“For too long the West Midlands has been overlooked by Westminster. We need a Mayor who will stand up for our region; who will fight to get our fair share from Government; and who will push for the urgently needed support for our small and medium-sized businesses.

 

The Government has promised levelling up, but we have yet to see the reality of it in the West Midlands and most of the money promised is simply re-announcement of previously committed funds. Jenny will be a strong voice for the West Midlands.”

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Liam Byrne, Labour

Liam is the Member of Parliament for Birmingham Hodge Hill and has previously held several ministerial positions including Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Chief Secretary of the Treasury.

“At the centre of our recovery from Covid must be a strong partnership with business.


Businesses working hand in hand with governments of all levels to deliver the jobs and prosperity that helps communities thrive. That is my promise to business as Mayor.

Getting the region back on its feet and supporting businesses to get fully up and running is my top priority. I want the Black Country and West Midlands to lead Green Britain and bring back industry.

Businesses across the Black Country are facing challenges like never before. Covid has tested us all to our limits.

Businesses have stepped up to help their communities in the Covid crisis, as Mayor, I’ll be doing all I can to support businesses recover too.

I’ll be fighting for continued support from the government, so there isn’t a cliff edge when furlough ends and I’ll be doing all I can to support businesses locally too.

Across the public sector in the West Midlands, billions of pounds are spent each year, but nowhere near enough of that money goes towards supporting local jobs and local companies.

 

I will be creating a Prosperity Team to push as much of that spending to local firms as possible. That team will make sure there is one place that companies can go and we will also commission our local chambers to support firms to bid for public sector contracts, particularly focussing on SMEs.

I will also be working with local Chambers to target support to sectors that need it most and will bring more certainty to exporting by asking the government to guarantee a ten-year contract for export services that the Chamber delivers.

To begin to deliver the 200,000 jobs I plan to help bring to the region, I will put businesses at the heart of a rebooted regional Jobs Taskforce, working hand in hand with DWP, educators and others to focus resources on the areas that need it most.

To support the Jobs Taskforce I will create a West Midlands Learning and Skills Agency to double apprenticeships which have fallen 40% in a decade and revive a careers service and I will work with the government to deliver the ‘right to retrain’ for unemployed workers, to help deliver the skilled workers businesses rely on.

To lead Green Britain and bring back industry we need to build on the huge potential of our workforce and support businesses to make the transition to the new green economy. By going green faster, we will win the jobs of the future.

I will develop a network of Green Industry Zones across the region to help industry go net-zero carbon, along with a West Midlands battery Gigafactory for electric vehicles to support that transition, backed up by a WMCA Green Jobs Fund with the Government devolving funding to our region.

Boosting demand is key to moving green for our region’s businesses. I will also be accelerating building and infrastructure projects to stimulate the economy in its hour of need. We will run a ‘Make It Here review’ to identify where our transport and housing programmes can foster manufacturing opportunities in our region.  

But it is also true that the region is still missing out on investment compared to the rest of the country. I’ve served at the highest levels of government and will change that by bringing together a cross-party group of MPs, Peers and Council leaders to press the case.”

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Pete Durnell - The Reform Party

Pete Durnell worked in the computing sector until 2014 and has headed several campaigns to leave the EU since that time.

“Whoever becomes Mayor will need the backing of the Combined Authority to carry out the vast majority of their stated intentions, and to convince central government to both change national policies, and part with a huge amount of extra funding for the region.

No one will work harder to achieve these goals than I will.

The UK has slowly become a low growth, high tax economy.

Reform UK believes we have to turn this around. I believe we have to turn this around, if elected, I will use the office of West Midlands Metro Mayor and the Combined Authority to achieve this aim. 

The UK should be a low tax, high growth economy.

We currently have the longest tax code in the world.

It is not designed to promote growth and fails to help wealth creators, the self-employed, entrepreneurs and SMEs.

I would like to see the current 20,000 pages reduced down to 500 pages. The simplification of our tax system is essential.

Reform UK would like to see a carefully targeted £48 bn per annum injection, mainly to private sector (stimulus = 2.2% of GDP) to generate growth.

We are finally out of the EU.

We must take advantage of this by removing the red tape and bureaucracy that holds us back, particularly our small and medium-sized businesses.

Repeated lengthy lockdowns have hit small businesses the hardest and provided a huge boost to some of the largest businesses, in particular those with a strong online presence.

I would like to see the abolition of business rates for small & medium-size firms, offset by an online Delivery Tax of 3%  - this will create a fairer playing field for the High Street, and physical versus online businesses.

We face a stark choice, either take radical action or accept our high streets will never return to anything like the way they were operating pre-Covid, which was far from ideal.

I am a huge fan of apprenticeships but would like to see the burdensome Apprenticeship Levy scrapped, it has reduced rather than increased apprenticeship numbers.

Simplify, stimulate, reduce red tape and tax.

We must break the chains that are holding back our businesses.

Higher growth will mean higher tax revenues in the medium term and allow us to provide the kind of public services that we all want.

As your Reforming Metro Mayor, the above would be the underlying principles that would guide every decision I make.

Wherever I could, I would be the ‘Breaker of Chains’.”

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Steve Cauldwell - The Green Party

Mr Caudwell is a councillor in Solihull and project delivery specialist who worked for Jaguar Land Rover, Airbus and the Department of Education. He joined the Green Party in 2015 and was elected by residents of Castle Bromwich in North Solihull in May 2019.

“When the WMCA was formed in 2016 it was assumed that devolution would result in growth. But nearly five years on, there is still little evidence that this is the case. Growth in the region is modest and productivity is around 11.8% below average. 

There is also an assumption that when (or if) we see more abundant growth, everyone will benefit. 

Again, there is no evidence to say so. Even when the economy was growing before Covid, it was clear that the wealth wasn’t being shared. 

We were seeing the same handful of individuals get richer, while the rest of us saw a fall in our living standards. We have huge areas that have seen industry decline with little to replace it, and a vicious cycle of low-skill, low-pay jobs.

 

This has combined with high levels of ill health due to these conditions, worse public services thanks to central government cuts hitting these areas hardest, and poor access to housing and transport to create a toxic mix that has trapped whole communities in a downward spiral.


If a supermarket opens, for every £1 spent there, just 5p remains in the local economy. If a local shop opens, 50p of every £1 spent remains in the local economy. 

So, it’s obvious that working to nurture home-grown SMEs and co-ops in the West Midlands needs to be a priority if we are to build a prosperous local economy. If we’re serious about helping the least well-off areas to catch up, we have to grow enterprise in those very communities. 

This means helping companies to start-up in every area, rather than just improving the transport network and hoping wealth created elsewhere will trickle down. 

An economy based on more small businesses and co-operatives will also be more resilient. If a multinational company opens a factory in the West Midlands, they can as easily shut it and move it somewhere else if the economic conditions change. If someone who lives in Wolverhampton starts a business there, it’s very unlikely to move anywhere else. In the wake of Brexit, this makes clear sense. 

Small businesses are already the backbone of our economy. In the few years after the economic crash of 2008, more than eight of every ten new jobs that were created were in small businesses and SMEs already provide the vast majority of jobs in the West Midlands.

 

Their presence helps to make our neighbourhoods distinctive and places that people enjoy living in.

But there’s so much more we can do to create the conditions in which small businesses can start up, survive and thrive; from focusing WMCA budgets on support for SMEs and co-ops, to working more on regional and local infrastructure, including main roads; getting serious about ensuring fast and reliable broadband; ensuring an accessible and affordable supply of a variety of industrial and office units; and consolidating the current confusing array of support services into a well-advertised one-stop-shop for support around everything from sales, marketing and customer service to long-term and ongoing access to personal advisers to help to increase exports and assistance to get business plans into shape and analyse how robust and realistic they are.


There are so many steps we can take to address this challenge, and I set them all out in my manifesto (steve4mayor.green/manifesto) but first of all, within my first 20 days, I will appoint a Deputy Mayor charged with championing community wealth building and monitoring the creation of a West Midlands strategy for such growth. 

That first step will start the process of refocusing our economy so that it works for those who need it the most – local people and the small enterprises they start-up in a hope of making better lives for themselves and their families.”

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