LGC’s assessment of how West Midlands mayor Andy Street (Con) is getting on after his first 100 days in office.
West Midlands mayor Andy Street
First 100 days
“Our mayor needs to be a strong voice for the West Midlands, accomplished at putting our case to government and being an ambassador around the world, while at the same time addressing issues that matter locally: jobs, housing, transport and skills.”
That was Andy Street’s assessment of the mayoral role in his election manifesto which helpfully, for the general public and journalists anyway, listed 10 tests for his first 100 days in office. This list included tasks such as holding his first session where members of the public could ask him questions (tick) and finding 1,000 ‘mayor’s mentors’ who would provide advice and guidance to youngsters in the region (tick).
On the whole Mr Street has passed his self-imposed tests for the first 100 days, although only just in some cases – a pledge to lead a trade mission “to a fast-growing market” was met thanks to a trip to Canada at the beginning of the month, “put together in record time” according to the respected Chamberlain Files blog.
Meanwhile a commitment to host a Brexit summit so businesses and residents can meet Brexit ministers took place last Thursday.
While perhaps not the most eye-catching pledge, Mr Street’s 10th test – to build his mayoral leadership team by appointing executives to key roles – is nevertheless important. As Mr Street said in an interview with LGC last month, the “single most important thing you do in any role is assemble your team” as “a high class team will deliver high class results”.
Street press releases
The appointment of Birmingham-born Deborah Cadman as the combined authority’s chief executive is a shrewd move, but the body is still recruiting for a strategic director of housing and regeneration, as well as a director of skills and productivity.
Even when those vacancies have been filled, there are concerns about how much impact senior officers can really have.
Former Birmingham City Council chief executive Mark Rogers, who played a key role in creating the combined authority and securing the region’s first devolution deal, told LGC: “I think he [Mr Street] has made a reasonable start especially given that, like all of the mayors, he has not got behind him the delivery capacity to crack on and show he’s making a real difference…
“You can’t change the world in the first 100 days but he is creating the conditions to be really successful.”
Street staff numbers
It also helps that Mr Street has excellent contacts with both business leaders and within central government. No other mayor can boast the fact they have met the prime minister twice, including one trip to Downing Street (another key manifesto pledge) to discuss a second devolution deal for the region.
Observers have noted to LGC how energetic Mr Street has been both physically and politically since his election. There has been a steady stream of announcements and initiatives coming out of the combined authority and the mayor’s office. But with a majority of fewer than 4,000 votes in a region, where about 1.9 million were eligible to vote at the last election, Mr Street was always going to need to be proactive if he has ambitions of being re-elected in 2020.
Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce chief executive Paul Faulkner observed at close hand on the Canada trip not only how well Mr Street (and the office of mayor) was received by dignitaries abroad but the way he operates. Such is Mr Street’s charisma and power of persuasion that the delegation left the mayor of Toronto’s office with the principles of a trade deal largely agreed, said Mr Faulkner.
On Mr Street’s style, Mr Faulkner said: “He’s an incredibly hard worker, he puts in a shift, and he’s always well briefed. He’s a consensus builder.”
Still, outside of the political bubble there is a feeling Joe Public will not yet have noticed much difference to the way the region is run, or care any more than they previously did about the mayoral role.
street in his own words
Should any, or all, of the local campaigns to bring Channel 4, the Commonwealth Games, or the City of Culture to the region prove to be successful Mr Street will no doubt take many of the plaudits even though the latter two initiatives have been led by Birmingham and Coventry city councils respectively.
Gary Ridley (Con), leader of Coventry’s Conservative group, told LGC Mr Street had spent a lot of time in the city since his election including working on the City of Culture bid.
With its own distinct identity and part of a local enterprise partnership with Warwickshire CC, Coventry was not a natural member of the Birmingham-centred combined authority and Cllr Ridley suggests the Labour administration’s decision to join may not have been entirely apolitical. Nevertheless he says Mr Street has done much to reassure Coventry councillors that he is a mayor for the whole of the combined authority area.
“I do think people are prepared to give Andy a chance,” he said. “He’s a hardworking mayor and the best opportunity we’ve had for a long time to push this region right to the top of queue [for funding and investment].”
In an interview with LGC in June 2016, West Midlands CA interim chief executive Martin Reeves said it would be important the combined authority delivered some “quick win” infrastructure projects “which wouldn’t have happened” without it, so investors and the government would gain confidence in the region’s plans.
The same is true of the general public – in his manifesto Mr Street said he had “seen the beginning of the renaissance of the West Midlands” but added “it needs to go much further and touch the daily lives of many more residents”.
It will only be when brand new buildings are constructed, traffic congestion is eased, and more jobs are created that people will start to take notice and care.
That all takes time – certainly more than 100 days – but after a successful start it is clear the hard work to start delivering tangible results for the region starts now.