On Star Wars day, May 4th, residents across the West Midlands will vote for the first ever for a directly elected West Midlands Combined Authority Mayor. This position will have substantial powers over transport, economic development, direction, investment, planning and infrastructure.
I’m not just saying this because I am a Conservative, but I genuinely believe hand on heart, that Andy is absolutely the right person to take my city forward with vigour, passion and proven ability.
The literature is starting to circulate, and the campaign pushing a steady message around a few central undeniable facts comparing Andy with the other main candidates- he is not a career politician, he was the CEO for John Lewis, he was the Chair for the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Board, and he is a Birmingham lad born and bred. These tell a story, but by no means the whole message.
I first met him when he came to speak at one of our Sutton Coldfield dinners, where he was the guest speaker before he had announced his candidacy. What struck me immediately was the passion and energy from such a small frame! He spoke of his humble upbringing, working upwards form the shop floor in John Lewis, and of the pride he felt in the cooperative and family ethos of his company, and of his accomplishments. But at the same time, he was humble, attentive and genuine. Answering questions, we went over to the person and addressed their concerns, not just answering the question, but he spoke with us with a relatedness and authenticity which was refreshing in a world of politics.
Later on, there were rumours that he was being asked to stand, and immediately it made such clear sense- a businessman outside of politics to lead the city. Since becoming elected, I have found the rate of progress above all frustrating, how so often party politics, point scoring, and a survival instinct based on mistrust and deception, renders what would actually be good for the city and people very much a secondary consideration. Coming from a business background, I have found that common sense, financial accountability and clear leadership are vital in its success. If only that could be brought in to council.
We are to debate the Birmingham City Budget soon and a public consultation has been circulating. currently in the city, 1 in 3 children live in poverty. family homelessness is 6.2/1000. This is despite a budget of £3.6 billion. The automatic response from some quarters will be to blame Governmental austerity. However this is not the entire picture. Birmingham City Council have written off Business rates in 2015/16 of nearly £9m because of poor collection performance. £300,000 was spent on consultants to help renegotiate the collection fund contract. some £10m was wasted on buying new waste vehicles that were not fit for purpose, council sickness absence remains stubbornly high above national average, the rate of agency staff across departments is also high, while four new Assistant Leaders posts were created at a cost of £40,000.
If this was a business it would have been scrapped. Austerity is also about efficiency drives- and Council needs to be made more efficient. The City is borrowing about £928m at an estimated yearly interest cost of £156.5m (2017/18). We are not maximising our revenue, not delivering on our targeted savings and spending beyond our means.
A businessman with an experienced strategic eye on the future is what is needed for the city and the region. I know if you read into the background of the city, and that of this candidate- who has sacrificed a very stable and profitable career for public service- you too will find it undeniable that he is the right person for the job.
When I met him for the second time, we were walking towards each other outside the Council House- I has just left a meeting, he was on his way to one. He remembered my name, stopped and spoke with me for a few moments remembering a few things we had spoken about two weeks ago. I remember, after he walked away, just thinking to myself, what a good guy. Small things, but they say so much about who a person is.