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**
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.”
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.”
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.”
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