It’s week one of what could either be a three-year flirtation with devolution or the beginning of a bright future – independent of Whitehall – for the West Midlands.
Andy Street’s famous win was defined through the prism of Conservative success across the country, helping to annihilate the UKIP vote and pin back Labour in some of its core areas. However, this analysis (made by much of the national media) does Street a disservice.
The new Mayor’s campaign was conducted as far away from CCHQ as it is possible to be, whilst running on a Tory ticket. His election literature was green, and aside from a last-minute visit from Boris Johnson, involved very few Conservative big-hitters. His was a victory won on personal skill and experience.
This type of analysis, whilst keeping us political anoraks interested, is irrelevant. What matters is the job, and the work starts now.
Street’s ‘Renewal Plan’ was broad and comprehensive with pledges on a range of issues including transport, housing and investment. However, in these opening weeks our new Mayor will be seeking several ‘easy wins’ to help justify and legitimise the role to business and the electorate.
In the opening days of his mayoralty, he has made tackling homelessness a key priority. This is a sensible choice – it’s uncontroversial and there is plenty of political will behind finding a solution to a growing problem. If he can make positive changes quickly it will go a long way towards getting the region behind him for the tough decisions that inevitably lie ahead.
Those of us working in the property industry will also be buoyed by his decision. Homelessness is a complex issue with addiction, mental health and abuse at the heart of the problem. However, any reasonable analysis must take account of the housing stock in the region, particularly access to social housing.
Street’s activity in this first week should kickstart a social housing drive for the rest of his term, as an integrated part of a broader housebuilding push.
There is no doubt that housing and development will be one of the most difficult issues in the coming years, but if the new Mayor can start his first week on the job pushing the social housing agenda it’s a strong signal that housing of other tenures will follow.