THE LABOUR leader said the Mayoral and PCC elections were the chance for West Midlands people to ‘write the next chapter’ and everybody needed to ‘grasp it with both hands’.
Sir Keir Starmer’s words came during the virtual launch of the campaigns of Liam Byrne MP and Simon Foster held this morning.
He added: “I have been out and about with Liam and is a really great campaigner for social justice – I have seen first hand the energy he and his team has.
“We are currently at a fork in the road after this pandemic and we have to decide what comes next.
“The Tories just want to go back and put a sticking plaster over what we had before but we can do much better.
“We have 74 days until the elections and Liam has his plan ready to go.
“Liam wants to make the region a global centre for green manufacturing – this is about a new chapter for the world and for the West Midlands.”
He said one of Liam’s main strengths would be to link up the mayoral role with that local councils, government and businesses to ensure everyone was working together and pulling in the same direction.
Sir Keir spoke about a visit to Coventry College where young people talked about how they were being skilled up and the jobs they were going to get.
“It was incredibly inspiring to hear them talk about how they were going to build this new world.”
Mr Byrne said: “We need to make sure after this pandemic, there is not a ‘pandemic of poverty’.
“Our region has been one of the hardest hit – even before the pandemic, apprenticeships had fallen by 40 per cent, youth unemployment was up by 20 per cent and we have had an 80 per cent cut in youth services in the past ten years.
“When we short-change our children, we short-change our future.”
He put giving young people in the West Midlands the life chances they deserved as one of his main mayoral priorities.
He said he wanted to rebuild youth services with young people at the heart of decision-making to let him know what they needed.
“We are the youngest region in Europe and we need to be the best place in Europe for young people to grow up in.”
He also spoke of his previously reiterated desire to make the West Midlands – which played such a huge role in the first industrial revolution – the ‘new green workshop of the world’.
“The best way to define it is in the words of Prof Dave Greenwood from WCG who said ‘skills are the new coal’.”
When asked about the future of high streets, Mr Byrne said pure retail in city centres did not work anymore and there was a need for a mix of traditional retail, new business start-ups, accommodation and spaces for art, festivals, events and ‘all the fun stuff’.
Mr Byrne added: “The proposed Coventry City Centre South development is a prime example – it has the unique situation where 40 per cent of it is being rebuilt – the only place in the UK where this is happening.
“We need to reimagine our city centres.”
Sir Keir added: “The high street has taken a pounding during the pandemic.
“We need different high streets in the future but we need to remember to support the businesses that have survived the pandemic and are still here.”
Mr Byrne wants to hear people’s thoughts and for them to help him ‘shape the plan’ going forward. Click here for more.
When it came to the Police and Crime Commissioner launch, Sir Keir paid tribute to the current West Midlands PCC David Jamieson, thanking him on behalf of everyone for his term in office before he retires and for more than 50 years service overall.
And Sir Keir said he backed Mr Foster to rebuild the infrastructure of community policing.
Mr Foster lambasted Government cuts which led to the loss of 2,200 police officers in the West Midlands over ten years.
He he said the promised police uplift was welcome but that would only bring another 1,200 by 2023 which meant the region was still way short of what it needed.
He called for a fairer funding formula as, he said, the West Midlands was heavily disadvantaged by the current one and was being ‘ripped off by the Government’.
He mapped out his three priorities – to rebuild community policing by putting a community police officer in every West Midlands ward, to cut violent crime – particularly knife crime – and to improve community safety.
“The prevention of crime is always better than dealing with the consequences of it.
“These elections are a must-win for us and we can win them if we all pull together.
“We must rebuild that red wall brick by brick by brick.”
In a post-launch question and answer session, Sir Keir was asked about what was needed to combat rising knife crime in areas like Coventry.
He said: “You need the right number of police officers on the ground and a strong justice system for when people are caught but you can’t just arrest your way out of the issue – it runs much deeper.
“You need to look at schooling, housing and youth services.”
For more on Simon Foster’s West Midlands PCC campaign and pledges, click here.