NEWS: Rt Hon Michael Gove MP visits Erdington High Street to see locations earmarked for regeneration in rejected Levelling Up application

Words by Erdington Local election news team

On Monday, 28 February, the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP took a tour of Erdington High Street with Conservative Councillor and MP hopeful Robert Alden – looking at the locations earmarked for regeneration in the recently rejected multi mullion pound Levelling Up Fund application.

Michael Gove MP is the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and ultimately responsible for allocating funds from the £4.8 billion pot of Government money for regional investment into local infrastructure.

Erdington was the only Levelling Up Fund application made by Birmingham City Council in October last year that failed to progress to the next round – whilst millions are now on the horizon for other projects across the city, not a single penny was spared for the proposed regeneration of Erdington High Street.

The Levelling Up Fund application for Erdington High Street was at £12,700,000 – with further investment coming from the private sector, including the transformation of Central Square into a destination venue of shops, cafes, bars, and apartments.

Birmingham’s other bids, which all made it through the first round, included £19,941,000 for the A457 Dudley Road Improvement Scheme, £17,145,000 for the Birmingham Wheels site remediation, and £15,539,000 for Moseley Road Swimming Baths.

The Levelling Up Fund bid for Erdington High Street was the only application without match funding from Birmingham City Council, despite the local authority finding up to £17m in match funding for other projects.

In Birmingham for a visit to Birmingham Energy Innovation Centre in Tyseley – as part of a tour of the West Midlands – Michael Gove MP joined Erdington Ward Councillor and MP hopeful Robert Alden for a tour of Central Square and the old Erdington Baths – two locations that played key roles within the Levelling Up Fund application.

In a previous opinion piece written by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and published by Erdington Local on Saturday, 26 February, Michael Gove MP stated:

“If Robert Alden is elected as Erdington’s next MP, you’ll have a local champion making the case for Erdington directly to Cabinet members like me.

“This is what Erdington really needs — someone willing to stand up for the area and make sure residents are heard.

“He has been a vocal proponent for Levelling Up Funding to transform Edington’s high street, and I’m currently working with him to get this bid over the line.”

Erdington Local was made aware of Mr Gove’s visit after CCTV footage of the group entering and exiting Central Square had been sent to the newsroom.

After contacting the West Midlands Conservatives office for comment, and pictures from the visit, Cllr Robert Alden told Erdington Local:

“A key part of my plan for Castle Vale, Kingstanding, and Erdington is securing investment to regenerate Erdington High Street.

“That’s why I wanted to bring the Levelling Up Minister to see first hand both the need for investment but also the exciting plans that we have pulled together with the community to regenerate the High Street.”

Robert Alden added: “While Birmingham Labour have voted against investing in Erdington year after year, I will continue to campaign and work constructively to bring partners to the table to try and secure investment for Erdington High Street.”

Erdington will vote for its next Member of Parliament on Thursday, 3 March.

The 12 candidates contesting the seat are: Cllr Paulette Hamilton (Labour), Cllr Robert Alden (Conservative), Dave Nellist (Trade Union and Socialist Coalition), Lee Dargue (Liberal Democrats), Michael Lutwyche (Independent), Jack Brookes (Reform UK), Siobhan Harper-Nunes (Green), Thomas O’Rouke (Independent), Mel Mbondiah (Christian People’s Alliance), Clifton Holmes (Independent), David Laurence Bishop (Militant Bus-Pass Elvis Party), The Good Knight Sir NosDa (The Official Monster Raving Loony Party).

CCTV footage of Rt. Hon Michael Gove MP visiting Central Square with Cllr Robert Alden

For more on Cllr Robert Alden and the Erdington Conservatives visit www.erdingtonconservatives.org.uk

ELECTION NEWS: Conservative big hitters celebrate ‘enormous potential’ in Erdington and push for ‘improved funding pitch’ to regenerate High Street

By Erdington Local election news team

With 100 days to go until the local elections on 5 May, Conservative Party big hitters have been celebrating Erdington’s “enormous potential” – with one leading cabinet minister calling for an “improved funding pitch” to secure millions for the High Street.

Following a special visit to Erdington, Conservative Party Co-Chair Oliver Dowden said:

“Seeing Erdington first-hand showed the enormous potential of this town centre – there is a huge range of shops with relatively few empty units, and some great independent traders generating footfall.

“So, there is a real opportunity here to build on what has been achieved by local businesses and the BID and secure a better future for Erdington.

“I was struck by the passion and vision that Cllr. Robert Alden has for the centre and there is no doubt he is a strong advocate for Erdington and attracting the investment that is needed.

“The Government is committed to Levelling Up communities like Erdington, and I look forward to an improved funding pitch being submitted, which could help unlock the High Street’s potential.”

Mr Dowden was on a tour of the constituency with Erdington Ward Councillor Robert Alden, who is also Leader of Birmingham’s Conservatives.

Meeting with local residents, campaigners, law enforcement, and the local business community, the visit was arranged to help understand the needs and concerns of people who live and work in Erdington, ahead of the upcoming local elections.

Erdington is also facing a by-election where local voters will decide the next constituency Member of Parliament, following the sudden death of Jack Dromey MP on Friday, 7 January.

Cllr. Robert Alden, who represents the Erdington Ward along with Cllr. Gareth Moore, is also a local resident and has been involved in many constituency campaigns – including recent applications for regeneration money from the Government led Future High Street and Levelling Up funds.

Whilst both bids were initially rejected, due to reasons that span the political divide, there is still hope a renewed application for the Levelling Up Fund could ultimately be accepted – which, if successful, could see millions invested into Erdington High Street.

Cllr. Alden added: “I was pleased to showcase Erdington’s potential to Oliver, a leading member of the Government. We have all been disappointed that the previous Council bids have not had everything we need in them, but we know what needs to be addressed.

“We have already met with the Council and the Department and are fighting to get the changes needed to successfully reapply in the next round.

“Regenerating Erdington will ensure that it has a secure future as a place that local people actively choose to want to come and spend their time.

“We are working positively with Government and West Midlands Mayor Andy Street who has been another supporter of Erdington, including calling it out as a priority in his manifesto.”

Mirroring the hopes and aspirations of the Erdington councillor, West Midlands Mayor Andy Street added:

“I am very struck by the strength of community support, including from organisations like Witton Lodge Community Association, the BID, and Cllrs. Robert Alden and Gareth Moore for regenerating Erdington.

“I’m committed to continuing to work with the local team in securing investment into Erdington.”

But on the High Street itself, there are people who see day after day the problems facing local shoppers and businesses. Erdington Street Warden John Lynch, who met with Oliver Dowden during his visit, told Erdington Local:

“There will always be a problem with shop lifters, and we do need to target the shop lifters – at the moment the police don’t often come out for shoplifters unless they’re violent and aggressive. Even then it’s a struggle.

“I would like to see more police presence on the High Street.”

Another local resident, who didn’t wish to be named, added: “If we’re not talking about shop lifting, then personally I think it’s the littering and dog fouling – people need to take more pride (in the area) – the High Street is for everybody to enjoy.”

But as sun follows rain, there was one positive note from Magdolena Gal – when asked what the biggest problem facing the thoroughfare was, she told: “I have no problem, I think the High Street is good.”

https://twitter.com/i/status/1485922235399430149

NEWS: West Midlands Mayor urges campaigners to ‘keep lobbying’ to save Short Heath Playing Fields

Words & pics Ed King

During a visit to Short Heath Playing Fields on Saturday 11 December, West Midlands Mayor Andy Street urged campaigners to “keep lobbying, to keep making their voice heard” – as the battle to save the beloved parkland continues.

Short Heath Playing Fields had been earmarked for a new housing estate of potentially over 84 three to five bedroom homes, to help support the city’s social housing agenda.

But in a recent surprise U-turn, Birmingham City Council deemed the site unviable and gave the green space back to the Education Department.

Andy Street had previously visited local residents fighting to ‘Save Short Heath Playing Fields’ in April this year, returning on Saturday to congratulate the campaigners – but also to warn against a possible private sale.

Despite a welcome win for Short Heath Fields Trust (SHFT), the formalised group fighting save the playing fields, the Council’s shift could mean the parkland is now sold on the commercial market.

A previous statement from Birmingham City Council explained if the land was not developed by the city: “the options are limited and stark…

“With the current demand for land by house developers, it is anticipated that the land would be sold relatively soon to a private developer.”

An advocate of building on brownfield over greenfield sites, Mr Street explained:

“The first thing to say is that it’s really good news that their (Council) own plans for development are not going ahead, and the campaigners deserve huge credit for getting a change of heart there. But then I would say there is still another campaign to be run to make sure it doesn’t get sold off for development.

“So, what I hope will happen is that it moves into the Parks Department and can then be developed, as the team on the ground here have said, as a facility for the community. I hope that the Council will still see that is the right thing to do.

“(Now campaigners should) keep lobbying, to keep making their voice heard – particularly as this is the year of elections in Birmingham so it’s really important. I think we’ve already seen the power; the power of a community voice is really symbolic.

“Very clearly, we’ve got a huge housing challenge in the West Midlands. We all know that. But the good news is that we’re steadily choosing individual brownfield sites to be developed one after another and the policy remains absolutely to win Government funding we can use to close the viability gaps on individual brownfield sites.”

Erdington Ward councillor Robert Alden opposed the development on Short Heath Playing Fields when it was first identified in the Birmingham Development Plan.

Joining Andy Street on the playing fields, he told Erdington Local:

“This is a great first victory, but it is very much only the beginning, not the end.

“There’s a long battle ahead – residents have been brilliant at coming together and now it’s really clear the Council need to move this into the Parks Department rather than the Education Department, guarantee it won’t be sold, and allow the residents here to take ownership of this site and put it into use just like the local community wants.

“It’s been absolutely brilliant to see the way people have come together; you look at some of the events, like the Halloween Trail they had, the Sports Day in the summer, the clean ups being organised by the local community.

“This is exactly what Erdington and North Birmingham are about – a community coming together to stand up for what they believe in.”

Having grown from a Facebook campaign to an official lobbying body, the local residents that make up Short Heath Fields Trust (SHFT) are celebratory of the Council’s recent decision – but mirror the concern of the West Midlands Mayor and Erdington Ward Councillor.

Stephen Hughes from SHFT told: “(I am) extremely proud of my community, to see them today… it’s emotional, it’s always emotional. But it’s important that they’re still behind us, they’re still 100% backing everything we do.

“And moving forward that’s going to be crucial, because we want to make sure this (the playing fields) remain a green space and doesn’t become anything other than that.”

Also from SHFT, Estelle Murphy added: “I’m nervously hopeful; nervous that the Council won’t listen to us and give us the time to explore the opportunity for sport here, hopeful that they will.

“(The community are) very pleased we’ve got though the first part of the battle. They’re hoping that we’re going to keep on, which we will. We won’t back down. We’ll be there until the bitter end.

“There are no houses on here yet.”

Short Heath Fields Trust are continuing to explore uses for the playing fields, following on from previous community events organised there – alongside a focus on sport, health and wellbeing.

For more on Short Heath Fields Trust visit www.shortheathfieldstrust.godaddysites.com

Andy Street, Robert Alden, Short Heath Fields Trust, Stephen Hughes, Estelle Murphy, Birmingham City Council, Short Heath Playing Fields, Active Arts Castle Vale, Review Publishing, Erdington, Erdington High Street, Ed King, Ed King 2210, Erdington, Birmingham, Erdington Local, newspaper, feature, Sutton Coldfield Local, Local Newspapers, showcase, news

NEWS: Workers at GKN Chester Road factory vote ‘yes’ on redundancy package

Words by Ed King / Pics supplied by Unite, Jack Dromey MP, Google Street View

Workers at the GKN Chester Road factory have voted ‘yes’ to a redundancy package offered by GKN’s owners, Melrose PLC.

After months of fighting the factory’s closure, including the threat of industrial action in September, the 500 plus workforce have now agreed to take the severance pay.

Referring to the Chester Road closure as a “betrayal of a highly skilled workforce”, a statement from Unite the Union told how workers at the GKN Chester Road plant had “little option but to accept a redundancy scheme offered by GKN Melrose after the company refused to reconsider the union’s plan to save the plant despite the government’s request for it to do so.”

Melrose PLC announced their plans to close the Chester Road plant in January 2021, which would see the loss of 519 jobs and major disruption to the local automotive supply chain – GKN Chester Road are a significant supplier to the neighbouring Jaguar Land Rover factory.

Following intervention from Unite the Union, Jack Dromey MP for Erdington, Birmingham City Council Leader Ian Ward, and West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, Melrose eventually entered discussions to explore another possibility to the closure.

However, Erdington Local learned the multi-million pound venture capitalists took only a matter of minutes to reject any alternative plans – committing to the Chester Road closure and sealing the fate of over 500 workers.

A further vote was then passed by Chester Road workers to accept the redundancy package from Melrose PLC.

Following the announcement workers would be taking ‘a negotiated redundancy package’, Jack Dromey MP for Erdington said:

“What cannot now be allowed to happen is for the plant and the 519 strong workforce to be thrown on the scrapheap.

“This plant is a site of British manufacturing excellence with a world-class manufacturing capability. The skill and experience of the workforce is irreplaceable and the envy of many in the industry.

“It is utterly shameful that GKN/Melrose have chosen to close the plant and turn their back on this loyal workforce. The loss of 519 good, well-paid jobs in an area of high deprivation – the fifth most deprived constituency in the country – will be a hammer blow.”

“The closure of the plant by GKN/Melrose is a betrayal of the British national interest.

“Never again can our manufacturing base be left so exposed to the greed and short-termism of private equity-style firms who have no interest in the long-term strategic interests of the British automotive industry.

“While the company have chosen to walk away, I firmly believe that the Chester Road site can have a bright future through an alternative use being found.

“I will continue to work closely with the workers’ union, Unite, the Government, the Mayor of the West Midlands and the Leader of Birmingham City Council to explore this option.

“The workers can be assured of my unrelenting support to leave no stone unturned to keep production going and protect manufacturing in the West Midlands.”

Unite national officer Des Quinn added: “For 10 months our members at GKN have fought hard to save this plant but it is apparent that GKN Melrose was never prepared to reconsider its original decision.

“Having failed to get Melrose to change its mind, the government must not fail the GKN workers again.

“The government must play a dynamic role in finding a company to take over Chester Road and save as many jobs as possible in the process because these are the skills our country needs if we’re to step up to the demands of climate action.”

To find out more about GKN Automotive visit www.gknautomotive.com
For more from Unite the Union visit www.unitetheunion.org
For more from Jack Dromey MP for Erdington visit www.jackdromey.co.uk  

NEWS: West Midlands mayoral candidate Andy Street will “do everything I can” to save Short Heath Playing Fields

Words & video by Adam Smith / Pics by Gary Phelps

Conservative West Midlands Mayoral candidate Andy Street has promised “to do everything I can” to save Short Heath Playing Fields.

Mr Street met campaigners and volunteers from Short Heath Wombles at the playing fields yesterday afternoon – capping off a busy week on the campaign trail ahead of the poll on Thursday, May 6.

Saving green belt land and preserving green spaces has been a central plank of Mr Street’s re-election campaign and he called on Birmingham City Council to scrap controversial plans to build more than 80 houses cherish Erdington playing fields.

He told Erdington Local: “The first time I heard about the plan to build houses on this site, I thought ‘this can’t be right’. To me, it’s not even a debate whether houses should or should not be built – I cannot understand why they would be built here. It cannot happen.

“Across the region we are campaigning to save green belt but also green spaces, they are our green lungs.

“Housing in Erdington is quite dense and we’ve learnt in Covid how important green spaces are for our mental and physical health.”

He added: “Long before the election I supported the campaign to save Short Heath Playing Fields. I have visited the site before and I am in regular contact with Stephen Hughes from the campaign.”

The decision to build homes on the former school playing fields will be made by Birmingham City Council’s planning committee – but the West Midlands Combined Authority can prepare and recommend alternative brownfield sites for development.

Mr Street said: “I can make sure we prepare the brownfield sites we’ve got for development and there are funds from the combined authority available for this. So, I can make the alternatives happen because there is no denying we need more homes in the city.”

He added: “Ultimately it is a Birmingham City Council decision which I cannot directly influence but I can give voluble support to the campaigners – so those who will decide its future will know what the community want.

“Everyone in the community must shout to make their voice heard over this issue and they can make a difference.”

Stephen Hughes, from Short Heath Fields Trust, thanked Mr Street for his support and described how the campaign, which began last summer, had galvanised the community.

He said: “I know how passionate Mr Street is about saving green spaces and knowing he is backing our campaign, and willing to come and see what we are doing down here, is really important for us.

“We have a lot of exciting plans and the community is right behind us.”

Short Heath ‘Womble’ Sheila Appleby, aged 79, picks up litter seven days a week from the playing fields – along with other local residents as the ‘Short Heath Wombles’.

Upset over the Council’s plans for the beloved local green space, which Shelia and the other ‘Wombles’ rely on for exercise, she gave Mr Street a hand written letter explaining why losing the playing fields would break her heart.

Shelia wrote: “Our children need this place so they will not play in the roads or sit in all day on their X-boxes. So, hands off our green space – even the late Prince Philip saw the need for playing fields, so does Prince William.

“Once green spaces are gone they are gone forever.”

Andy Street visits Short Heath Playing Fields

For more on Andy Street visit: www.andystreet.org.uk

For more on the campaign to Save Short Heath Playing Fields, visit: www.facebook.com/groups/1007069176404521

VOTING FOR BOTH THE WEST MIDLANDS MAYOR AND POLICE & CRIMES COMMISIONER TAKES PLACE ON 6 MAY 2021 – to register to vote visit: www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

For more on elections and voting from Birmingham City Council visit: www.birmingham.gov.uk/info/20097/elections_and_voting  

Q&A: West Midlands mayoral candidates Liam Byrne MP and Andy Street

Words by Ed King and Helen Knott / Profile pics supplied by cadidates, supporting images by Ed King 

The West Midlands will elect a mayor for the combined authority on 6 May 2021, the second time the position will be contested – alongside the position for Police and Crime Commissioner.

Incumbent mayoral candidate Andy Street (Conservative) is facing fierce competition from his rival across the aisle, Liam Byrne MP (Labour), mirroring the close call of the first West Midlands Mayor election in 2017.

Erdington Local caught up with both Liam Byrne MP and Andy Street to find out their thoughts on some of the issues most pertinent to our readers.

Each candidate has been asked the same questions and given the same overall space/word count to reply – and as with the rules of most competitions, the challenger goes first.

**VOTING FOR BOTH THE WEST MIDLANDS MAYOR AND POLICE & CRIMES COMMISIONER TAKES PLACE ON 6 MAY 2021 – to register to vote visit: www.gov.uk/register-to-vote**

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Erdington has suffered from high rates of unemployment – if successfully elected, how would you help people get back to work?

LB: “The future for Erdington is for us to bring back industry. I want Birmingham to be the Green Workshop of the world. That will be good for Erdington because it will bring manufacturing jobs to Jaguar Land Rover and its supply chain.

“In the short term, we will do an emergency audit of all public contracts, council, police, NHS and anyone in the public sector and we will ask them to start routing those contracts to local businesses to support local jobs.

“And we need to start actually using the Adult Skills Budget to deliver free re-training for people who lose their jobs.”

AS: “We’ve given a clear commitment that we will work to produce 100,000 jobs in two years – the fastest growth this region would ever have seen. It’s called the Mayoral Jobs Plan; it’s not about fantasy, it’s about stuff that is happening now.

“First of all, take advantage of the big investments that’s we’ve already won. HS2, that’s 7,000 jobs. And make sure the highest proportion of those jobs go to local people though local SMEs getting those jobs.

“Secondly, thinking about new areas where growth is going to come – the best example of that is the electrification of the automotive sector, which is so important to JLR at Castle Bromwich. Think about the new sectors, get public money behind them, generate jobs there.

“The next thing is about retraining people for the jobs of the future – programmes are open and available at the moment for people to reskill in the areas that are growing.”

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The impact of coronavirus has left many businesses closed and high streets suffering, how would you support local shops and businesses?  

LB: “Firstly, we have to push through the Future High Street Fund, which is key to unlocking investment in Erdington High Street.

“We have to recognise that high streets will look different in the future, so we need to make sure that there is a mixture of not just business space, but start-up space for new businesses.

“We need to start using festivals and markets, culture and sport to bring life back to high streets. What high streets need more than anything else is footfall.”

AS: “I genuinely believed that the Erdington (Future High Street Fund) bid was a good bid, I actively got behind it.

“We have already, straight away, stepped with the Witton Lodge Community Association – to encourage their application for the regeneration of the Erdington Baths.

“I would also support Councillor Alden’s bid for the balance of the regeneration to come from the Erdington Levelling Up Fund bid.

“A critical point is getting SMEs the contacts – whether it be through HS2 or the Commonwealth Games, whether it be on the transport contacts that we’re running – we actively try to make sure local SMEs get those contacts.”

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Building on parks, allotments and playing fields has been a big issue for many local residents and families. How would you protect our green spaces?

LB: “Local residents like those involved in Short Heath Playing Fields are right to kick up a fuss. We need to start building the houses that we need without losing the places that we love. We don’t think that you should be losing green space, in fact you should be investing in green space to make it nicer.

“My commitment is that we will build on brownfield first and I’m confident that we will only need brownfield sites for the next mayoral term.

“We think that there is plenty of space on the estates that we’ve already got, to redevelop them to create the housing numbers that we need.”

AS: “The categoric reassurance is that I would not develop any of the green spaces, so I stand shoulder to shoulder with the team over on Short Heath Playing Fields.

“The way that you meet the housing need is to ensure we do develop the brownfield sites; I would welcome any brownfield application from a developer so we can protect those green spaces.

“To communities recovering from Covid, green spaces are critical to their physical wellbeing and their mental wellbeing. The Council also need to maintain the green spaces so they can be used appropriately.”

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Erdington has a high number of HMOs, with areas like Stockland Green suffering from the crime and social disorder they can invite. How would you, as mayor, address this issue?

LB: “The MPs in Birmingham have worked together to create a five-point action plan on HMOs that Jack Dromey MP is helping to galvanise. It is an especially serious problem in Stockland Green, but it is a problem all over the city.

“Many of the changes are legal changes nationally to give the council the power it needs. This is another is example of where we need a campaigning Mayor, someone who is going to stand up and fight for the powers that we need locally to make our communities nice again.

“Part of the problems with HMOs is that there is such an acute shortage of homes for social rent. 97% of the homes built in the West Midlands last year were not for social rent. So, it’s not surprising that we’ve got a housing crisis.

“We would use the resources that the Mayor has sitting there to double the number of homes for social rent that we’re building.”

AS: “Across the West Midlands we have doubled the number of homes being built in the last five years and doubled the amount of affordable housing. We’ve also changed the definition of ‘affordable’ so it relates to people’s income and not the property’s market value. So, it genuinely is ‘affordable’.

“HMOs and exempt accommodation are an acute issue. We will work with the city council to review the geographical allocation, their management, and the national legislation. That sector has been overdeveloped in Birmingham.

“I would hope to be in discussion with Government within a year, I know this needs tackling. Particularly in Stockland Green.”

For more on Liam Byrne MP visit www.liambyrne.co.uk
For more on Andy Street visit www.andystreet.org.uk

For more on elections and voting from Birmingham City Council, including links to check if you’re registered to vote – or to register, visit: www.birmingham.gov.uk/info/20097/elections_and_voting  

OPINION: Why the NHS should be awarded the George Cross

Words by Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands / Photography courtesy of Andy Street 

As we continue the fight against coronavirus, May 8th has taken on a new significance – as the next date on which the lockdown will be reviewed.  Yet there is other celebration connected to that date – VE Day – which resonates with so much that is going on now.

The 75th anniversary of VE Day may have been disrupted by a new enemy, but it links us to a past generation who faced another great national test.

It was during World War Two that the George Cross was created, to reflect the courage of civilians who showed extraordinary bravery. I believe we are seeing that courage again today. That’s why awarding our NHS staff the George Cross provides appropriate recognition for their incredible efforts.

Recently I was honoured to join HRH Prince William to help officially open the NHS Nightingale Hospital at the NEC. Just a few weeks ago, this was an empty space. Now it is a fully-operational hospital with 500 beds ready to join the fight with COVID-19. It stands as a testament to what we can achieve if we pull together as one. It also represents the respect and gratitude we all feel towards our NHS staff.

The ‘Nightingale’ name above the door also perfectly embodies the driving principles of those who are on the frontline on this crisis – they are saving lives whilst demonstrating care and compassion.

The NHS, from the doctors and nurses on the wards, to the ambulance crews and paramedics, and all support staff, represents the very best of our society.

This crisis has shown, more than ever, the vital importance of a health service that is free at the point of use. Look around the world, at the disjointed approach produced by countries where private healthcare is prevalent, and you can see the true value of our single, united health service.

The nation’s weekly doorstep appreciation of the NHS – where millions of people applaud in support – is proof of the debt of gratitude we all feel.

The NHS reflects so much of the best of British society. The NHS is truly democratic, treating everyone the same. The personal gratitude expressed by the Prime Minister to the nurses and staff who oversaw his recovery from COVID-19 illustrates how the NHS is there for all of us.

The NHS also reflects of the diversity of our modern society. In the crisis, we see the young caring for the old, and we also see retired doctors and nurses returning to join the fight. We see NHS staff from all backgrounds and from across the globe helping the people of the UK.

Right now, the NHS is also hugely important to the health of our economy. As we try to protect business through the duration of the crisis, the NHS is a huge employer that simply keeps going.

Of course, as an institution, the NHS needs care and investment. Prior to the outbreak, the Government unveiled a huge programme of future investment, but now, as we fight this virus, our focus is rightly being placed on the here and now. Some areas are clearly not as good as we want – such as the continuing issue of PPE.

We see now, more than ever, how the NHS is the embodiment of British society. And it is the NHS staff, putting themselves at risk daily, who have become our modern heroes and heroines. That is why I believe the George Cross is an appropriate acknowledgment of the bravery we are seeing.

This is not a gimmick. These awards exist to allow us, as a society, to recognise those who have stepped forward in a time of need.

These are unprecedented times, but awarding this medal collectively, to thousands of people for their joint bravery, has been done before.

In 1942 The George Cross was awarded to the island of Malta by King George, so as to “bear witness to the heroism and devotion of its people” during the great siege they underwent in the early part of the Second World War.

Six years after Malta was awarded the George Cross, the NHS was born. Now, after seven decades of devoted service to the British people, our NHS staff now find themselves under siege too, from coronavirus. There is no doubt in my mind that this is their finest hour.

It is time to reflect the unique contribution to our society of the NHS, and the gallantry shown by its staff. The National Health Service has earned the George Cross.

Andy Street is the Mayor of the West Midlands. For more on Andy Street, visit www.wmca.org.uk/who-we-are/meet-the-mayor/