The fabled 100 day marker is in sight and Andy Street is heading towards it with the air of a student cramming for an exam. Kevin Johnson assesses the Mayor’s homework.
Recent announcements on Devolution Deal II talks, a Funding for Growth programme and a transport action plan as well as senior appointments are part of a choreographed run up to 12th August* when the honeymoon period made famous by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt comes to a close.
Last Tuesday Andy Street met PM Theresa May. In his list of ten achievements to be marked after 100 days, visiting Number 10 was fourth on the list.
But, popping down for tea with the First Lord of the Treasury was generally the answer when asked about his first mayoral action during the campaign. The political landscape changed dramatically, though, between his election and the General that followed.
By any measure, Andy Street is leading the field of new Metro Mayors. Only Andy Burnham is attracting as much attention nationally – which is partly due to already being a Cabinet level political player; being at the head of an established Combined Authority/Interim Mayor infrastructure and the terrorist attack on the Manchester Arena which brought the region’s leader into the spotlight.
The recent announcement about Devo Deal II talks is seen by the Street camp as evidence that the West Midlands has overtaken Greater Manchester as the region shaping the next phase of devolution.
A deal should be ready for announcement in the Budget towards the end of the year.
In that deal, Mayor Street is trying to secure more powers over skills and housing. Chamberlain Files understands that absorbing the powers of the Police and Crime Commissioner is also on his agenda, with the aim of a transfer in time for the next mayoralty starting in 2020.
Whilst current Police and Crime Commissioner, David Jamieson, may not object in principle to the aim set out in Mr Street’s renewal plan, he is expected to voice strong views on the sort of governance framework policing should have in the region.
For many, the skills gap is the region’s most significant strategic challenge – especially if you accept that transport improvements are in the system. The WMCA is, after all, built on the foundations of a transport body.
WMCA is currently recruiting a Director of Skills and Productivity whilst the Productivity and Skills Commission launched its call for evidence in April. But it is not clear what resources the new £100k+ executive role will have to develop a “skills programme”. The Commission was meant to have produced a consultation response summary by the end of July, but so far no sign.
Securing powers to be able to direct the region’s strategic skills agenda, achieving better alignment between supply and demand in the skills ecosystem; bringing employers and educators together and developing new flexible pathways will need to be high on the Mayor’s list. There are no outward signs of such policy development yet.
Housing is the third big challenge. The Mayor’s powers are extremely limited; councils do not appreciate the Mayor stepping onto their territory and Mr Street will recognise that his ‘brownfield first’ promise was a factor in his election – especially in Solihull.
He has stopped short of endorsing the recommendations of the WMCA Land Commission whilst very few politicians are arguing for statutory, region-wide spatial planning powers which most experts believe are essential.
It is likely the Mayor will be seeking assistance in securing more funds for brownfield land reclamation and new measures to bring unoccupied homes into use.
Along with addressing homelessness through a taskforce, a Mayor’s Mentors scheme was the first initiative of his mayoralty. An announcement is expected in the next few days about how the scheme will work, supported by a partnership with One Million Mentors and the Careers and Enterprise Company. The scheme has apparently already exceeded the 1,000 target.
The Mentors scheme, launched days after Mr Street’s unexpected victory, is symbolic of his whirlwind tenure to date. A policy initiative with good intentions is launched, supported by political will rather than legal powers with almost no practical wherewithal in place.