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2021 pre-election pledges by candidates

2021 pre-election pledges made by candidates

In 2019, we carried out an extensive listening campaign to unpack top civil society priorities for the West Midlands regional elections in 2020. Then the Covid-19 pandemic struck, postponing the elections to 2021. We adapted our focus to fighting the spread of the virus & responding to arising community issues. Here’s a short thread on how we organised in 2020.

On Thursday 25th March 2021 at 6pm, amidst celebrating our diversity and sharing powerful stories, with 353 leaders we launched civil society priorities for this year's regional elections at our first ever online Accountability Assembly.

The elections will be held on Thursday 6th May.

Watch this short 3 minute film to find out what Citizens UK Assemblies are about:

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We do not support any political party, but we take voting and community leadership seriously. Our people-powered Assemblies show the importance of civil society to set out a clear agenda for change to public bodies. Sheikh Nuru Mohammed, Co-Chair of Citizens UK: Birmingham.

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Our overriding objective is to secure a relationship with whoever becomes our next Mayor and our next Police & Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands. We are committing time, money & energy on our priorities to make families better off, communities safer and build a region of welcome. An effective relationship will allow us to make them happen. Liz Coleman, Co-Chair of Citizens UK: Birmingham.

The Assembly was attended by the candidates pictured below. Please read our basis for candidate invitations to the Assembly here.

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The full recording of our Assembly is available to view below:

Please read our written briefing on all 9 priorities here.

After the 9th of April, we wrote to all the remaining candidates confirmed as standing for the elections seeking their pledges to our priorities too.

The full list of all the candidates standing for Mayor of West Midlands is available here.

The full list of all the candidates standing for West Midlands Police & Crime Commissioner is available here.

We received responses to our priorities from Jenny Wilkinson (Liberal Democrats) standing for West Midlands Mayor and Jon Hunt (Liberal Democrats) for West Midlands Police & Crime Commissioner.

In this article, we will share with you the pledges made by the six candidates: Andy Street, Liam Byrne & Jenny Wilkinson for Mayor; and Jay Singh-Sohal, Simon Foster & Jon Hunt for Police & Crime Commissioner.

Make families better off

Watch 3 short powerful video clips below explaining each of our 3 priorities for making families better off.

Build social rent family homes

Make the West Mids a living wage region

Paid work placements for young people

1) Build social rent family homes

This priority falls in the remit of the Mayor of West Midlands. Andy Street, Liam Byrne and Jenny Wilkinson all agreed on the need to build social rent homes and said yes to our priority. On the detail, this is what they said.

Andy Street, Conservatives:

My commitment going forward is that in the manifesto we will talk about a new housing deal with central government to be able to accelerate the pace at which Housing Associations in particular, are able to deliver those social rent homes. Currently there is not a way that that is being achieved if you look at what Local Authorities are doing, if you look at what Housing Associations are doing, it's just not achieving that.

‘…in front of everyone here I'm happy to say we do have to now lean into this having made very good progress on the underlying issues of affordable home building as I described.

Liam Byrne, Labour & Co-operative:

Between now and 2029, Birmingham City Council will spend £346 million on building 2708 homes for social rent. That still falls short of your target...

On the Birmingham figures, we are 356 homes for social rent short, so I will make sure that the Combined Authority is stepping in to work with Birmingham in order to plug that gap…

At the moment, we only build 205 homes for social rent each year, that is a collapse of 85% since 2010…So, our goal will be to double the number of homes that we build for social rent under a labour mayoralty and we will work with the councils in order to deliver that.’

Jenny Wilkinson, Liberal Democrats:

'Yes. We have a desperate housing shortage in the West Midlands. I am aiming for around 21,000 to be built each year, of which I should like a third to be for social rent. We need to end family homelessness for good.'

2) Make the West Midlands a real living wage region

On the real living wage, all six candidates backed it.

Andy Street, Conservatives:

''Four years ago, I stood in your hall. You asked me if the Combined Authority will become a Living Wage employer. I said, Yes. That was done in 2020. A really good example of your influence.'

'London Olympics was not a Real Living Wage employer it was actually before that time, so Birmingham has an opportunity to be first and as a member of the strategic board, I believe that the commitment has already been given, so I believe that that will happen and that's something we will be able to be very proud of there. I would also encourage any organisation that can achieve to get that position as quickly as possible.'

Liam Byrne, Labour & Co-operative:

'…if you are winning public contracts from us here in the West Midlands, then you must commit to paying the real living wage to the people that you employ. That is the only way that we can create a bow wave if you like of pressure to increase wages across our region. At the moment people are paid so little that frankly the number of food parcels we're issuing has gone up by 45% and that is wrong.’

Jenny Wilkinson, Liberal Democrats:

'Yes. My commitment to promoting the Real Living Wage across our region is included in my manifesto - and this must be the Real Living Wage, not the Government's lower version.'

Jay Singh-Sohal, Conservatives:

'...to address your points absolutely directly, the Office of PCC [Police & Crime Commissioner] in the West Midlands Police force is indeed a living wage accredited employer and I commit to continuing that in office.'

Simon Foster, Labour:

'I pledge that if I'm elected, the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner in West Midlands will remain living wage employers and I support the West Midlands becoming a real living wage region. Paying the real living wage is the hallmark of being a good employer. It'll provide a boost to the economy; it'll provide and improve recruitment and retention. And it'll improve & it'll help to alleviate the scourge of inward poverty... I am proud to say that the legal aid law firm at which I work is a living wage employer.'

Jon Hunt, Liberal Democrats:

'I am very supportive of paying the living wage. I am not sure how many staff WMP [West Midlands Police] employs who are paid less or whether there are problems with any contractors. I would want to review this.'

3) Paid work placements for young people

On paid work experience for young people (16-30 year olds) all six candidates backed it.

Andy Street, Conservatives:

'...My categorical answer to this is yes, there will be a manifesto commitment over this as well because I think this is a very unmeritocratic system at the moment and sometimes people get work experience for you might say the wrong reasons and we want to set up a region-wide clearing system so that people will be able to come in to that work experience.'

Liam Byrne, Labour & Co-operative:

'I'm happy to work with you to provide those placements but that's got to come with a programme to put youth workers back in every neighbourhood; and crucially to build a UCAS system for apprenticeships because apprenticeship numbers have collapsed by 40% even before COVID so that is an exciting agenda you have set out tonight, I'm looking forward to working with you to deliver it.'

Jenny Wilkinson, Liberal Democrats:

'Yes. I want to drive up the numbers of apprenticeships, local internships, secondments and business placements, particularly targeted at those young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.'

Jay Singh-Sohal, Conservatives:

‘In terms of 100 paid work placements, well I have already announced my programme called the Young People's Covenant, which is about giving young people the opportunities to get work and get work experience…that they are paid for it. So, I will indeed right now commit to that and as Andy Street said, indeed I think we can be a bit more ambitious. Young people need to feel valued, that's what guides their attitudes when it comes to finding a place for themselves in civil society and when you look at the West Midlands budget… it's £67 million higher than it was in 2010. So, there are no more excuses. We need proactive leadership and action to empower our young people; and I will certainly work with you stepping forward to ensure that that is delivered.’

Simon Foster, Labour:

'I’ll work with Citizens UK to co-produce a pilot with a view to the provision of at least 100 paid work placements for 16-30 year olds in Birmingham. The prevention of crime is one of my big priorities, because the prevention of crime is always better than having to deal with the consequences of crime. And one effective way to prevent crime and indeed to provide for the rehabilitation of offenders is to provide young people with positive opportunities for education, skills training and gainful employment. And the availability of paid work placements will improve young people's job prospects particularly for those who might not otherwise have the opportunity to access paid work placements - that will prevent crime, protect our young people and save lives.'

Jon Hunt, Liberal Democrats:

'I am happy to work with you on this. Please bear in mind the PCC [Police & Crime Commissioner] does not have operational control of police management. I do want to review and consider career paths into policing, in particular to tackle appallingly low levels of recruitment from ethnic minority communities. So I would be expecting a wholesale review of access to policing careers and routes into policing.'

MAKE COMMUNITIES SAFER

Watch 3 short powerful video clips below explaining each of our 3 priorities for making communities safer.

Mental health counselling in schools

Pilot Hate Crime Action Plans

'Misogyny' an indicator of hate crime

4) Mental health counselling in schools

We acknowledge, both the Mayor and the Police & Crime Commissioner do not have NHS decision making powers. Hence, why here we are calling for both of them to work with us to host a roundtable with NHS Commissioners to prioritise mental health counselling in schools.

All of the candidates backed this priority.

Andy Street, Conservatives:

'The answer of course is, Yes! But maybe I can just broaden the answer to say that I think the last 4 years demonstrate how I understand this, because I have taken on the areas agreed with the NHS where the Combined Authority would lead on mental health provision; and that of course was around mental health in the workplace, and in those preparing for work. And I'm very pleased to say that our Thrive Into Work project which has taken people with mental health conditions and got them into the security of work has just been awarded significant new government funding as a good exemplar. So of course I would like to agree what we can do alongside the NHS in that. And it was perhaps just worth reflecting I went along to the Birmingham Youth Trends just before lockdown - actually always a very important event -and it was fascinating to me that this single issue was bigger than any other one spoken about.'

Liam Byrne, Labour & Co-operative:

'We need radical action to improve the situation. So my first meeting with the NHS commissioners will not be for a cup of tea and a nice chat. It will be to ask that there is a full inquiry and review into the state of mental health services in the wake of COVID with a view to producing an action plan for improving mental health services and the access points to it not simply across schools but also through a new network of youth workers that we put back in every community across the West Midlands. That is a fundamental importance to me and it is something I am determined to deliver.'

Jenny Wilkinson, Liberal Democrats:

'Absolutely. There is a desperate shortage of mental health care for our children and young people and the situation has only been hugely exacerbated by the pandemic. I am keen to look at how we can take urgent action to improve the situation.'

Jay Singh-Sohal, Conservatives:

‘In terms of mental health counselling... I’ll be training and utilizing PCSOs [Police Community Support Officers] for this endeavour, and there will also be a role for this for Specials [Special (Volunteer) Constables] . [They] are very special , they're officers who are warranted drawn from our communities. They don't do what they do for pay, they do it for the love of their community and to serve. And I believe that there is a stronger role that we could have for PCSO’s and specials..'

Simon Foster, Labour:

'It's been estimated that up to 40% of police time can be spent dealing with mental health issues of one description or another. So addressing mental ill health at an early stage will cut crime, reduce victims of crime and criminal exploitation. [It will] reduce the impact on policing and our criminal justice system; and our public services save tax-payer's money. And help to ensure that young people remain in education and have access to the mental health care they need, when they need it and where they need it; that in turn will give them the best opportunity to fulfil their individual potential and make a positive contribution to society . That is to the benefit of all of us.'

Jon Hunt, Liberal Democrats:

'I think it is an excellent idea for the Mayor and the PCC to work together on this. I would have thought meeting educational representatives is also important. I see a key role for schools in addressing youth vulnerability in many respects and my extensive experience overseeing the education sector in Birmingham (as Chair of Scrutiny Committee for six years prior to 2011) equips me well to engage with this increasingly diverse sector.'

5) Pilot Hate Crime Action Plans with employers

All of the candidates backed this priority.

Andy Street, Conservatives:

'I can give a clear answer to this and of course I would work with the incoming PCC [Police & Crime Commissioner], hopefully that will be Jay Singh Sohal then we could work very effectively together. But I have already worked effectively cross-party with the current Police and Crime Commissioner to do the hate crime campaign on public transport. And it was interesting to me that when we had the big faith conference back at the end of 2017...this was one of the priorities that was pulled out we've acted on it. We've actually seen - and you might say this is a very bad thing you may also say it's a good thing - an increase in 30% of reported hate crime on transport. But at least once it's reported it can be addressed. So I’d be very willing to take that forward in the employment area and use my contacts there to through the business community to act in a similar way..'

Liam Byrne, Labour:

'On hate crime, I will adopt the all-party group definition of Islamophobia that I helped to write. Much of the evidence that went into that inquiry was based on research that I'd undertaken in Birmingham and Hodge hill working actually with a cross-party group right the way across the country to draw up that definition. It should be a statutory definition in my view and I will continue to campaign for it....So I'm fully behind you on your campaign for this hate action plan, but I will bring to it and ask that we adopt the all-party group definitions..'

Jenny Wilkinson, Liberal Democrats:

'Yes. This should not be tolerated. We need to create a culture where people can speak up, be listened to and action taken.'

Jay Singh-Sohal, Conservatives:

‘I know how important it is in our diverse region to tackle this issue, and that's why I’m working with and I will continue to work with Birmingham City University on developing my proposals for tackling hate crime...I have already announced and what is in my plan is introducing a reporting hotline, a safe space at our police stations which I’ll stop from labour’s closure policy. And counselling.. for victims in order to pursue swift justice with behaviour change programmes outside of court.'

Simon Foster, Labour:

'I support your proposal that we work together to pilot hate crime action plans with employers, including the need to record and report on how they're doing, focusing on prevention. Which is entirely consistent with my own strategy that the prevention of crime is always better than having to deal with the consequences of crime, and thirdly if elected I will commit to your ask!'

Jon Hunt, Liberal Democrats:

'Yes. This should not be tolerated. We need to create a culture where people can speak up, be listened to and action taken.'

6) Make 'Misogyny' an indicator of hate crime

This is only within the remit of the Police & Crime Commissioner. All of the candidates standing for this, backed the priority.

Jay Singh-Sohal, Conservatives:

‘Turning to 'Misogyny', yes the Government is moving to do this across the country and make it a hate crime indicator. I welcome and support that it's important to ensure we're getting the insights also from the data being gathered and acting upon it. It's simply not enough just to have a tick or numbers ratcheting up to show that this is an issue we need to act upon the data: where it's happening, why it's happening and protect our women and girls.'

Simon Foster, Labour:

'Making misogyny hate crime indicator will be in my Police and Crime Plan. And congratulations Citizens UK, give yourselves a round of applause, a pat on the back and three rousing cheers, you did it. You won back in 2015, in Nottingham you started the campaign for the police to make misogyny a hate crime indicator and on the 17th of March the Government conceded to amendment 87b to the Domestic Abuse Bill so that all police forces will now have to record misogyny as a hate crime indicator. I pledged my support for this back in September 2020, I lobbied my fellow Police and Crime Commissioner candidates, made a video about it with Stella Creasy. If elected, then I’ll oversee the implementation of this by West Midlands Police - that will be in my Police and Crime plan.'

Jon Hunt, Liberal Democrats:

'..Lib Dems have pioneered pressing for action on misogyny in Parliament. It is a long-standing problem, underlying issues of harassment and abuse, and I would want to see how legislation develops so it is most effectively tackled. If there are relevant indicators I would be pleased to include them. I do think that previous Plans have been very short of stretch targets and I would be looking for more measurable objectives so the Chief Constable can be clear what the PCC expects.'

BUILD A REGION OF WELCOME

Watch 3 short powerful video clips below explaining each of our 3 priorities for building a region of welcome.

Launch a 'Community Advice Fund' to support local advice surgeries

Promote West Mids as a Region of Sanctuary

Better business support for ethnic minority enterprise

7) Launch a 'Community Advice Fund'

All of the candidates backed this priority, though they differed on approach to making it happen.

Andy Street, Conservatives:

' I would like to commit to...work out exactly how we do it with you.. how we work with the sort of umbrella organizations: Walsall Together, Coventry Action and the Voluntary Services Councils in each of the areas..to work out how we bring together the offer from the DWP [Department for Work & Pensions], the Citizens Advice Bureau, community groups, charities. Those people who actually are already doing this rather than the notion of a Combined Authority or a Mayoral Service.'

Liam Byrne, Labour & Co-operative:

'Andy's right to say that it shouldn't be the Mayor's office that delivers the rest the advice services as a community member of parliament you know I have felt the weight of new cases after the advice services were shattered uh over the last five or ten years and we have to make sure that we find the resources for those groups who have got the most reach that means organizations like community law centres that are doing such an extraordinary job today '

Jenny Wilkinson, Liberal Democrats:

Yes. We absolutely need to provide fair access to support in navigating often challenging processes to get the help they need.

Jay Singh-Sohal, Conservatives:

'...I'm going to look at this very closely, because I want to see if it fits in my own plan to get crime down, which includes a number of proposals on capacity building victim support groups that's providing advice and guidance, to help community groups as well as initiatives such as offering for example office space... within police stations, which I'll stop from the current closure policy. But it's also important to note that in providing safety and security and helping people who are from vulnerable backgrounds, there are a raft of measures we need to undertake. Getting crime down is the first point but I will be also be appointing a dedicated champion of victims interests... in order to be a region of welcome once more we have to be a region of safety and security and that must be addressed by tackling the increasing crime that we've seen over the past nine years here.'

Simon Foster, Labour:

'I will team up with the Mayor and others to establish a Community Advice Fund for local groups and civil society institutions to deliver advice surgeries. I’m flexible about the way we put that objective into practice, but I’m committed to the principle. My top priority will always be justice safety and security but for all the people communities and regions of the West Midlands.'

8) Promote a region of sanctuary

This is within the remit of the Mayor of the West Midlands. All of the candidates standing for this, backed this priority.

Andy Street, Conservatives:

' The answer to this is: Yes! We will do this I believe. I've already supported the work over refugee settlement and for example if you look at 2018 the work we did over 'My friendly cities' in Coventry & in Birmingham. And indeed in Wolverhampton. And so the particular question about the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme: Yes I would willingly support the extension of that because it goes to the heart, as the film said of what this place has been like for many decades if not centuries.

'On ESOL, I think we have a good record on this. We were asked a number of years ago to review this. We have maintained the full provision. We've indeed made it free to more people: extending the free level up to those earning the real living wage. And we've also of course made sure that community groups also deliver this. Very happy to examine with you, it's one of the specific asks, in the detail of exactly how this can be taken forward. And there is a balance between the transport costs and indeed the child care costs which we've discussed openly and we have chosen thus far to go for maximum participation.'

Liam Byrne, Labour & Co-operative:

' We have to step up not simply to create a region of welcome, but a region of sanctuary now. That's why I'm very happy to say Yes! We have to try and make sure that ESOL provision is expanded because very often it can only amount to two lessons a week where we need to be getting up to at least eight hours a week. Second, we have to campaign against the Home Office's brutal 'no recourse to public funds' rules which means that very often people who are sleeping on our streets are those who cannot prove their immigration status . We have to make sure that we have a much bigger network of refugees welcome schools.'

Jenny Wilkinson, Liberal Democrats:

' Absolutely. I and the Liberal Democrats are passionate about supporting those seeking refuge and consistently campaign for the shocking recent record of our government in this area to be improved. I will do all I can to make the West Midlands a place of refuge and to help those seeking sanctuary to integrate into our communities.'

9) Extend business support to ethnic minority entrepreneurs

This is within the remit of the Mayor of the West Midlands. All of the candidates standing for this, backed this priority.

Andy Street, Conservatives:

' There are four sub-parts of this and the answer is 'Yes' to all four. I believe we've worked very effectively with the wonderful Centre at [Aston] university for ethnic minority entrepreneurship over the last few years...I look at particularly what we're concentrating on helping government funding get through to ethnic minority businesses...making sure our outer education budget provides the skills for those businesses - over 70 % of it concentrated on the BAME [Black and Minority Ethnic] community and of course, what we're doing around our social enterprise growth because that is a sector where BAME leaders tend to be far more prominent than in most SMEs [Small & Medium size Enterprises]. So very happy to work on exactly what you've said and indeed last year I opened the conference. Very happy to do it every year going forward.'

Liam Byrne, Labour & Co-operative:

' We have to make sure that we take the approach that's been pioneered by Preston called Community Wealth Building and we are using the power of public procurement to support small businesses and our immigrant and refugee entrepreneurs. Organizations like the commonwealth games which spend £350 million on contracting in -we should be proactively using that money to support newcomers to our region that is the way we help people get on their feet and contribute to the richness and diversity of our fantastic region.'

Jenny Wilkinson, Liberal Democrats:

' Yes. This sounds like an excellent project which I would be very pleased to support.'

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Thursday 6th May will decide how our region is run; and those elected will lead our recovery from the pandemic. We've set out 9 very specific priorities communities from across our membership most care about, and the candidates' responses to them. We urge our member institutions to remind all to cast their vote on Thursday and have their democratic say via the ballot box. Citizens UK: Birmingham Leadership Group

Posted by Saidul Haque Saeed on 4 May, 2021

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