I am proud to address you as the Conservative candidate to be Mayor of the West Midlands. And I’m equally delighted to welcome you to my home city – Birmingham.
I first went to school down the road…. I had my first job interview a stone’s throw away from here…. …and my mum and dad still live the same house I grew up in. This region has formed me; it’s my heritage and it is fundamental to what made me a Conservative.
And after 30 years in business, this place is what’s drawn me to frontline politics, to stand before you today at a defining moment for my home region. Make no mistake! This is a region going places.
You will have seen the cranes on the skyline. And I suspect, as you stepped off the train, you will have marvelled at what must now be one of Europe’s finest railway stations. And maybe you were even seduced by a certain department store which now graces New Street Station.
Normally ladies and gentlemen, at this time of year I’m thinking of John Lewis and the creation of our Christmas ad; the bears, the hares, the penguins…the old man on the moon… This year? That’s not my concern. There are more important matters for me!
Many have already asked, are you really giving up all that for politics? The answer is yes. Precisely because we are at a defining moment for my region.
Our Prime Minister and her team see the potential of this region. They believe in devolution and understand that the best answers for the West Midlands will come from the people of the West Midlands.
Nobody questions why London has a Mayor. Indeed, every great city region in the world has a strong voice. And now thanks to this government, that can be the same for the Great English Cities. And for me, I could not see this opportunity pass by. And most importantly I could not let it fall into Labour’s hands by default.
Conference, the stakes here are too high. Let me tell you about the West Midlands, a place with enterprise in its DNA. From the founding of Industrial Revolution, to the birthplace of modern banking. But for decades this region underperformed economically - and as a result the social consequences have been painful.
The very constituency in which you are now sitting has the highest rate of unemployment in Great Britain, and life expectancy in parts of this region is much lower than it could be.
However, since 2010 our fortunes have begun to change. It was then that the new Government asked business to share in the leadership of economic development through the Local Enterprise Partnerships. It’s been a privilege to lead that organisation here and we’ve shown that teamwork and collaboration delivers. The results speak for themselves:
Over the past 6 years, the Greater Birmingham and Solihull area has delivered the fastest growth in private sector jobs in the UK.
The West Midlands has had the best export performance driven by our resurgent local manufacturing firms – indeed we are the only region in Britain to enjoy a trade surplus with China.
And last year, there were more businesses born here in Birmingham than anywhere outside London.
So Friends the choice is stark. Do we go back to Labour’s old way of doing things – where they think they know best. Or do we liberate our great regions and their talent? You know the answer.
As Mayor therefore, my guiding aim will be to once again to make this the regional economic powerhouse of Britain. There will be some who question that ambition.
But the lesson of history, indeed the lesson of Joseph Chamberlain - business man and Mayor of this city – is that social challenges can only be met when everybody shares the fruits of economic progress.
I understand how this works. It’s the principle upon which John Lewis is founded - a business which shares its success with all of its partners. It’s what we call “Partnership for all”.
We now need our own partnership for all in the West Midlands.
A partnership of our cities
A partnership of our communities
A partnership of opportunity
So what’s to do be done? Will the Mayor bang the drum for us around the world? Will the Mayor fight hard for the best deal from Central Government? Indeed, will the Mayor make the case for us hosting the Commonwealth Games?
With me as Mayor, the Answer is: Yes, Yes and Yes!
But above all else, it’s about building a sustainable economic future. That’s not about simple soundbites, or quick fixes here and there. It’s about addressing each of the issues holding back our economy. Really tackling this takes thought, dedication and above all else proven leadership.
A successful region is one which is connected in every sense – just look at transport. I’m pleased that the government is backing us with the huge investment in HS2. But when that railway opens, it’ll be quicker to get from London to Birmingham, than the 9 miles from this hall to Dudley!
But is this a surprise when spending on transport infrastructure in the West Midlands is only £266 per head compared with over £1,800 in London. 7 times as much – as Mayor, addressing this imbalance will be a priority.
So if Transport is important – raising the aspirations of our young people is even more critical. And as Mayor, my mission will be to enable everyone to make the most of their opportunities. That is how social mobility is delivered, and it’s the hallmark of a harmonious society.
We all know that a new job is a new chance in life whilst unemployment kills social mobility. And that’s why as LEP chair, I was determined to do something about deeply entrenched joblessness. Our Work Coaches programme – a national pilot – has put 15,000 people into work in the most disadvantaged areas. Just think, you could fill this hall 8 times over with the people who have been given a new start in just one year.
And given the importance of our task across Transport, Skills, and Housing and jobs, today I challenge my opponents to debate these issues with me right across the whole of the West Midlands.
So the eyes of Britain will be on us. This is an election that can change British politics forever. For too long, Labour has taken voters here for granted. They even talk about “selecting the Mayor” here. And just last week, Jeremy Corbyn said that he would use victory in the West Midlands to show what his Labour Party would do.
Next May, we must stop all that.
The facts are clear. On the last General Election results, we need just a 4% swing for victory. We can win here; we will win here. So we really can do it, and so that’s why I’m going to leave a job I love, to lead the place I love. This is a campaign that is moderate, inclusive and tolerant, and is made in the West Midlands.
I’ve told you how this region can be the centre of the economy, next year it will be the centre of our politics through the highest profile election. It matters not just for its own sake, but also in a place where arguably the challenges are greater than elsewhere, we can demonstrate that we have the answers.
And when urban Conservativism once again wins here, it will provide a blueprint for our future and for a society that works for everyone.