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Soon after becoming the first metro mayor for the West Midlands after a narrow victory, Andy Street set out his Mayor’s 2020 aims – a list of objectives to improve the economy and the lives of the people living in the combined authority in his first term.
Two-and-a-half- years later, what difference has it made to the West Midlands?
Reducing youth unemployment in the West Midlands has been a key objective of Street’s mayoralty. As we outlined back in 2017, the combined authority has a particularly high number of young people not in education and training, making its youth employment rate 23 per cent lower than the national average.
Since getting into post, Andy Street has launched a number of initiatives to tackle this issue. Days after his victory, he launched ‘Mayor’s Mentors’ – a mentorship scheme to help young people get the skills and advice they need to be successful in the labour market. He also launched the ‘Transition to Work’ pilot to bring together employers and young people to identify and reduce barriers to entering the labour market.
Despite youth unemployment in the West Midlands still being far from zero, it is slowly declining. Evidence from similar initiatives in different places – for example, the Year Up mentoring scheme popular in US cities like Boston – does suggest such projects do reduce youth unemployment, meaning we can be positive about the direction of travel the combined authority has taken in this area.
Together with youth unemployment, another key pillar of Street’s strategy is offering everyone in the West Midlands access to better paid jobs.
Working towards this goal, the combined authority has launched the Connecting Communities Pilot, an employment support programme to tackle low-pay by assigning a coach to each individual currently unemployed or on low-pay to engage with localised employability support and raise aspirations. In addition to that, the combined authority now has the opportunity to use the (delayed) devolved Adult Education Budget to support individuals to upskill and access better paid jobs.
While it is too early to establish the impact of such pilots on in-work progression in the city-region, evidence from our sister organisation the What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth suggests that these pilots have a bigger positive impact when targeting the most disadvantaged, once again pointing at the West Midlands going in the right direction with this initiative.
3. Faster commute
A third key pledge from Street was to make it easier to move around the West Midlands by reducing congestion on the roads and improving public transport. This was a much needed pledge as we pointed out in our analysis in the past – a quick win that could unlock opportunities for the businesses and people living in the area.
Over the past two and a half years, considerable progress has been made in this area. The combined authority has set out a strategy to improve walking and cycling in the city-region, which includes increasing spending on cycling infrastructure. In addition to that, the West Midlands is using the £250m funding from the Transforming City Fund to improve public transport provision and extending the tram offer in the city-region.
These initiatives are welcome and will help improve mobility in the city-region; but are not sufficient to solve the congestion issue in the area.
From next year, Birmingham City Council will introduce a congestion charge for the most polluting private cars, buses and lorries. This will reduce congestion noticeably in the short term, but to be sustainable in the long-term it needs to be coupled up with better public transport provision.
Yet, while improvements to the network are underway, Andy Street has been far less keen than colleagues in Greater Manchester and Liverpool City Region to use the new bus franchising powers available to him to create a London-style system that can offer a simple and easy to use fare structure for all bus journeys, and prepare for complete integration of the expanding Metro tram service and new Sprint Bus Rapid Transit routes.
Having a metro mayor has helped the West Midlands access a number of opportunities it would have otherwise missed and it has raised the profile of the city-region on the national and international stage – for example by playing a leading role in the creation of Local Industrial Strategies together with Manchester. This shows the potential such figures can have in driving change in their local areas.
It is now up to Andy Street to unlock this potential and transform it in even more opportunities for the West Midlands.
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