We meet in the depths of winter, in lockdown and online. Our economy, and our society, has faced its biggest shock in generations, and we face the double challenge of Covid and Brexit as we try and emerge from where we are.
I want to take us forward a few months to May. That is when it is hoped we will have vaccinated everyone over 50. Having safeguarded those at greatest risk from the virus it is hoped that the pandemic restrictions can be eased with a greater degree of confidence.
May is also the month that West Yorkshire chooses who their first Metro Mayor is going to be. I know which of those two May events is going to generate the greatest popular enthusiasm, but both have significant potential to make a long term difference to us as stakeholders and citizens in West Yorkshire.
Whether they’re referenced in response to either Brexit or Covid, “building back better” and “levelling up” are phrases that have entered our vocabulary to express a desire for a fairer future for everyone emerging from a common trauma. The establishment of Metro Mayors is meant to bring dynamism to this process. There is a question whether the office has the necessary powers for delivery, but as Andy Burnham has shown, there’s no question of the power of the mayoral platform to project a message, set standards, and lead a campaign.
It is in that spirit, I would suggest, that the mayoral candidates are before you today. We’ve all been selected by our respective parties on a manifesto of priorities, and one of us will emerge from the election with a mandate to deliver.
So here’s how I would like our local economy to regenerate and thrive going forward, and where my mayoral administration can make a difference:
We all need to reflect on the past twelve months and think about how our organisations and sectors have learned from the experience, and how we will operate differently in the future:
As Mayor, there are some things I’d like to change to ‘level up’ outcomes in West Yorkshire itself.
The West Yorkshire Combined Authority has been far too focussed on the 9-5 commuting economy, and public realm investment in the major city and town centres in each of the West Yorkshire Councils. It’s time our money and attention was refocused on stimulating the economies of smaller town centres; to creating 15 minute neighbourhoods that recognise and enable the potential of flexible working.
We have been far to acquiescent on the speed of investment in our local rail network from government , and the schemes delivered by the Combined Authority around bus investment are too often weighted to benefit bus companies rather than their patrons. Overcrowded and overpriced public transport cannot exist alongside a desire to get people out of their cars. I look forward to using my mayoral platform to get a better deal for passengers on both these issues.
I also want to stimulate the economy in areas that have previously been overlooked, and encourage current business organisations to develop place based and climate responsive business models.
The health sector has always been important to the West Yorkshire economy, but business support has tended to focus on health tech.
I want to develop the care delivery sector, to develop a more sustainable and locally responsive mixed economy, with a much higher level of SMEs, micro enterprises and coops.I want to stimulate innovation in our rural economy: to develop Agro-forestry, renewable energy generation, active leisure tourism, and market gardening.
The financial and professional services sector will be as significant as ever, but the necessity of homeworking under lockdown means it’s office based structure is under review, with obvious consequences for the construction sector, public transport demand, and city centre economies. The current absence of a deal on Financial services with the EU also complicates future strategy.
I’m really interested in finding out how the construction sector views their role in building back better locally. The spatial planning powers that were to come to the Mayor were deferred in anticipation of new planning rules coming soon from Housing Minister, Robert Jenrick. The mood music is that Council’s will have less influence on what and where we build, but market demand shows real appetite for energy efficient homes well integrated into local communities, and amenities accessible through active travel. I want to curate a relationship where the mayor can help to facilitate that place-based build out in partnership with the sector.
Manufacturing, logistics, retail and tourism have all been successful sectors over recent years, but the experience of Brexit and Covid have checked that growth. I want to understand the immediate challenges to those sectors better, and to lobby loud for the support we need from government.
I’m also looking for feedback from all business sectors how the mayors oversight of Adult Education can recalibrate the offer locally to help with our regions productivity gap, and deliver meaningful inclusive growth by enabling those affected by the economic downturn to return rapidly to employment in other sectors.
To conclude, I’ve got plenty priorities, but delivery depends on building momentum, and that’s not going to happen unless something resonates with people like you that are the generators of jobs and growth in our economy. I’m here to learn, and I hope you’ve got plenty of questions for me.