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Labour Big Wigs Attend Campaign Event In Erdington

As the campaign season comes toward its conclusion with the election on 8th June, members of Parliament are stepping up their game and campaigning across the country to build support for themselves and their fellow party MPs. One such event took place at the Premier Training College in Erdington today (31st May, 2017) with dozens of committed members of the local community turning up to listen to Erdington MP Jack Dromey and Tottenham MP David Lammy speak.

The crowd hung onto the two MPs every word, as they spoke passionately about why Labour was the party to vote for in the upcoming general election. Both MPs stated time and time again that it was Labour who had introduced the NHS, that it was Labour who had worked hard when in government to ensure that there was greater social cohesion and inclusiveness and that it was Labour who had worked hard to ensure that those from less well-off backgrounds had access to ladders to future success. Both MPs admitted that Labour had made mistakes, but that the party was willing to face up those mistakes and learn from them, and avoid repeating them, something they were both convinced the Conservatives never would.

Shortly after the two MPs had finished speaking, the floor was opened for questions. A businessman named Anthony asked what Labour would do to ensure proper support for the local community in Erdington and why Labour was worthy of his and others vote. Mr Dromey responded that he had done much to help improve the local community in Erdington and had campaigned tirelessly to help members of his constituency, he promised more of the same if elected. Mr Lammy stated that Labour was the only party that sought to represent everyone, and to truly protect the interests of the many, not the few.

Another businessman asked what Mr Dromey would do about the increased parking charges he was having to pay for his business. Mr Dromey gave a clear and concise answer that he would seek to work with the council if re-elected to ensure that every voice was heard and a proper and well thought out solution could be heard.

The event was rounded up with a lady named Hannah asking a pressing question about immigration and tuition fees. Both Mr Dromey and Mr Lammy were insistent that if Labour won the election they would seek to abolish tuition fees and to ensure that immigration was managed in a fair and reasonable manner.

Afterwards, Mr Lammy gave a final speech about why Labour could do a lot of good for the people of Erdington and the people of the United Kingdom, pointing to their record as the bringers of social inclusion and opportunity, and being the proponents for a fair and just society. The event ended with applause from the audience and a real sense that come 8th June, Erdington might well vote Labour.

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Nicola Sturgeon Softens Stance on Independence, During Manifesto Launch

Since March of this year, Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the SNP has been leading calls for a second independence referendum, either to be held in mid or late 2018, or the beginning of 2019. This would coincide with the conclusion of Brexit talks, and has been seen by many as Sturgeon’s attempt to bring her agenda to the forefront of political discussion and to ensure her mandate is used to full effect. However, in the SNP manifesto, launched in Perth, Scotland today, it appears that Sturgeon and the SNP are now softening their stance, a little.

The manifesto states: “At the end of the Brexit process, when the final terms of the deal are known, it is right that Scotland should have a choice about our future.” With such phrasing, it is implied that a referendum would likely only be held in late 2019, after talks over Brexit are believed to have finished, or if one were to follow Theresa May’s thinking, several years after this date.

Following her previous adherence to a referendum being held during Brexit talks, this change in opinion has led many to wondering what exactly has brought the change on. Some, are beginning to think the change in stance must have something to do with the declining support for the SNP. Recent polling figures have put support for the SNP at 41%, down from 55% in April, 2015. Support for independence currently stands below 45%, a further indication that perhaps independence is not at the forefront of many Scottish voters’ minds, and therefore, the SNP has had to change pace to stay relevant.

Consequently, during the launch of the SNP manifesto, Nicola Sturgeon stressed repeatedly that the SNP were the only party who could seriously stand up to the Tories, on welfare and NHS funding cuts. Sturgeon also said that the SNP would support a 50p top rate tax, but only if it were applied across the whole of the UK, they would also support protection of the triple lock on pensions.

However, though Sturgeon shifted focus to other issues during the manifesto launch, she concluded proceedings by stating that the elections to Holyrood last year had given the SNP a clear mandate to call for and hold a second independence referendum. Evidently, though the focus is elsewhere, independence is still a clear talking point, and will remain so for the SNP and for Scotland.

 

 

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Election Time: How The Three Parties Stack Up

Last week the three main parties in Britain and Northern Ireland released their manifestos. It seems that the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour all agree that the key areas of policy for a future government will be: the economy, housing, healthcare and Brexit.  With two weeks to go until the general election on 8th June, here is a quick look at how the three main parties compare on the key policies.

On the economy, all three parties are in agreement that more needs to be done to encourage growth and investment. Whilst the Conservatives wish to lower taxes and improve corporate governance, the Liberal Democrats and Labour wish to provide proper scrutiny of big companies and ensure that those who can afford to are paying an appropriate amount of tax, through a 1p increase in income tax as proposed by the Liberal Democrats, or a 5% increase in income tax for those earning over £80,000 in the case of Labour. Both the Liberal Democrats and Labour would use the British Business Bank to provide investment and funds to small and developing businesses, whilst the Conservatives remained vague on how they wished to promote small business.

Brexit sees all three parties taking completely different stances. The Conservatives are in favour of a ‘hard Brexit’ meaning leaving the EU completely including the customs union and the single market, taking back control of immigration and leaving the European Court of Justice. They would also replace or amend laws that were implemented when the UK was part of the EU through a Great Repeal Bill. Labour wishes to leave the EU but go for a ‘soft Brexit’ meaning that Britain remains part of the customs union and the single market, but prevents freedom of movement. Labour would also seek to guarantee the rights of European citizens currently living in Britain, as well as the rights of British citizens currently living in Europe. The Liberal Democrats would remain in the single market, the customs union and allow for freedom of movement. They would also wish to hold a referendum on any deal signed between them and the EU, and allow the people the final say, giving them the chance to completely reject the deal and remain in the EU.

Healthcare is a big issue for many voters within the country, and considering the ageing population this is no surprise. It is also no surprise therefore, that all three parties have promised significant investment into the NHS. The Conservatives have promised £8 billion of investment throughout the next Parliament, with £1 billion of that going toward Mental Health funding. The Liberal Democrats would use the 1p increase in income tax to help increase funding for the NHS and A and E, they would also set up a cross party consultation group to assess how the NHS is performing and whether it needs to adapt and change, and if so how that change might be implemented. Labour would invest £30 billion into the NHS, and would invest heavily in GP services. They would also develop a Child’s Health Index to assess how healthy the children in the country are and how their health can be improved.

On housing, the three parties appear to vary between have clear cut and costed proposals and vagueness. The Conservatives promise to use the Homelessness Reduction Act to half homelessness by 2022, and to end homelessness completely by 2027. They would also seek to modernise the home buying process through increased emphasis on their ‘Help to Buy’ Scheme and increasing protection for renters through introducing procedures that make the renter the priority in law. The Liberal Democrats would seek to build 300,000 new houses by the end of the 2022 Parliament. They would use the Housing and Development bank to attract investment into the country for housing development. They would also introduce ‘Rent to Buy’ schemes to ease people into the housing market. Labour would build 100,000 new houses using brownfield sites, 4,000 of which would be for those with a history of rough sleeping. They would also reintroduce housing benefit for 18-21 year olds.

All three parties have provided fully detailed manifestos to go alongside these key policies, that are available on their websites. If you have not already done so, please do register to vote. And do remember to turn out on Thursday 8th June, to get the government you want!

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Strong and Stable: Conservative Manifesto

The last of the main parties to launch their manifesto, the Conservatives celebrated the release of their party platform with launch event on Thursday 18th May, at Halifax, a traditional Labour seat, which has over years become a swing seat, meaning it could go either way. As with her campaign events, Theresa May was the centre of attention, and there were lots of references to her catch phrase ‘strong and stable leadership/government.’  The key policies within the manifesto, as with the two other main parties were: the economy, Brexit, healthcare and housing.

The economy is an area where the Conservatives have often been eager to point out the good work they have done. Indeed, in their manifesto they promise to provide sound public finances, low taxes, better regulation and free trade deals with markets around the world to ensure a better and healthier economy.  They also promise to protect the national living wage of £7.50 an hour that they introduced in 2015/16, and to ensure that with Brexit approaching, workers’ rights and protections are not forfeited, through the introduction of new workers’ rights as part of the Great Repeal Bill. The Conservatives also promise fairer corporate governance with new rules for takeovers, executive pay and possible worker representation on boards. In regards to income tax, the Conservatives promise to raise the minimum personal allowance to £12,500 whilst raising the maximum level to £50,000.

On Brexit, the manifesto sticks very closely to what has  been said by Theresa May throughout the campaign. The Conservatives if elected to government will bring the UK out of the EU, the single market, the customs union and end freedom of movement-apart from the case of the border with the Republic of Ireland- this is what has been called a ‘hard Brexit.’ With the Great Repeal Bill, the Conservatives promise to convert all EU law that they wish to maintain into UK law, making it laws created in Westminster, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast that are purely British, fulfilling their pledge to ‘take back control’. Finally, in acknowledgement of the recent Supreme Court decision, the final agreement for Brexit will be subject to a vote by Parliament. Contrasting with the Liberal Democrats desire to hold another referendum on the deal.

Health care policy has attracted much criticism on the Conservatives in their seven years in government. Therefore, it is not surprising that they have in their manifesto, pledged £8 billion in investment for the NHS, with £1 billion going into mental health research and funding. The manifesto promises to reform antiquated laws such as the Mental Health Act, and improve Health and Safety regulations to take this into account. The ‘triple lock’ on pensions will be replaced in 2020 with a ‘double lock’, keeping the link with earnings and prices but scrapping the minimum of 2.5% a year increase. The state pension age will rise with increases in life expectancy. The reforms on healthcare also promise to focus on the least well of pensioners, meaning that those with assets of £100,000 will need to pay for their own winter fuel payments and contribute to the government contribution.

With housing becoming an increasingly demanding issue for many within the UK, the Conservative manifesto gives a brief inkling of what they would do to remedy this situation if elected. The manifesto promises a full implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act, pledging to halve rough sleeping over the course of the next parliament, and to remove it completely by 2027. This would take place through the implementation of a Housing First approach, giving priority to rough sleepers for new houses. The Conservatives would also modernise the home buying process, they would improve upon their ‘Help to Buy’ scheme, and increase protection for renters, make landlords provide longer tenancies and finally ensure that all properties meet required standards.

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Liberal Democrat Manifesto: Key Policies

The Liberal Democrats launched their manifesto for the upcoming general election on Wednesday 17th May. In this article, their four key policies and the details of these four policies will be highlighted.  After extensive research and reading, the four key policies of this manifesto are: the economy, Brexit, health and social scare and housing.

The economy has been a big talking point for all political parties during the election campaign. In their manifesto, the Liberal Democrats have taken their campaign speak and made into properly articulated policies. They promise to eliminate the day to day deficit and only borrow to invest more into the country. They promise to bring in an additional £100 billion of infrastructure investment to help develop the economy through using a new British Housing and Infrastructure Bank using public money to attract private finance. In order to finance this increased investment, they pledge to introduce a 1p increase in income tax, as well as ending the 1% cap on pay rises in the public, give public sector workers more disposable income. They promise to introduce a national Spending Review and National Wellbeing strategy and review board to assess how they are doing in terms of keeping the books balanced and the economy growing. Also, pledged within the manifesto are promises to reduce tax loopholes currently being exploited by big business, and to increase corporate tax and to introduce a General Anti Avoidance Rule, to penalise businesses who do not pay their fair share of tax.  The Liberal Democrats will also expand the activities of the British Business Bank to ensure that they are providing investment in small and start-up businesses. Further to this they promise to develop skilled workers through advanced apprenticeships and national colleges, and to stamp out zero hour contracts.

On Brexit, the Liberal Democrats wish to remain in the single market and the customs union, as well as allow freedom of movement to remain in place, a contrast to the Conservatives and the Labour who wish for freedom of movement to end. The Liberal Democrats like Labour wish to protect the rights of both UK citizens living in the EU and EU citizens living in the UK, so that neither can be used as bargaining chips during negotiations. Finally, on Brexit, as they have constantly said during the campaign process, the Liberal Democrats are committed to giving the British people the final say on any deal with the EU. This would take the shape of a referendum that would decide if Britain accepts the deal, doesn’t accept the deal, or remains in the EU completely. This last policy is sure to be controversial with some.

Health and Social care is the area where the Liberal Democrats truly show their desire for change. They promise that the 1p increase in income tax would be used to increase funding for the NHS. This investment would also be used to improve priority areas of service such as mental health and A and E. They would also reduce waiting times and limit the cost of social care for the elderly. The Liberal Democrats would also reinstate student bursaries to encourage more young people to enter the NHS. Finally, the Liberal Democrats would create a Cross Party Health Convention to review the progress the NHS is making and whether or not it is keeping within budget and is delivering the services that it is meant in to a proper and effective way. There would also be an independent budget agency set up to ensure money is being used properly.

Housing has become a very pressing issue for the electorate, and as such the Liberal Democrat pledges in their manifesto, should perhaps address these concerns. Promising to build 300,000 new houses by the end of the new Parliament in 2022, the Liberal Democrats have set out an ambitious plan. They also wish to build ten new garden cities in the UK, to provide proper environmentally friendly housing. In order to fund these schemes, the Liberal Democrats would use the Housing and Development Bank to provide long term capital investment. To improve the chances of renters and buyers in the property market, the Liberal Democrats would end what they call restrictive Right to Buy Schemes, replacing them with Rent to Own and Rent to Buy schemes. They would also ban letting fees and introduce three-year tenancy agreements and capping up front deposits.

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Labour Launches Ambitious Manifesto

On Tuesday 16th May, the Labour party launched their manifesto, and with three weeks to go until the general election 8th June, it has come at an opportune moment. The four policies that really stand out in the manifesto, are the economy, Brexit, healthcare and housing.  This article will seek to explore the key proposals of these four key policy areas in some detail.

The economy has always been a somewhat contentious issue for politicians, and with it having been a Labour government that was in charge when the recession hit, this current Labour party have the incentive to show that they can do better. Using low interest rates, the Labour party plan on creating a National Transformation Fund that would help deliver investment and protect small businesses through preventing the more restrictive small business policies of the current government. Furthermore, to help small businesses, the Labour party wish to create a National Investment Bank that they state will bring in £250 million in private capital to the country. The party also wishes to nationalise the railways, the Royal Mail, the energy and water networks to ensure better quality services for the population.

On Brexit, the Labour party is clear that they wish to maintain the benefit of the single market and the customs union due to the potential economic benefit that this would bring to the country. Whilst also wishing to protect the rights of EU citizens already settled in the UK, and wanting the rights of UK citizens already settled in the EU protected, the Labour party is clear that freedom of movement would be ended under their government. In acknowledgement of some of the issues associated with immigration in the vote to leave the EU, Labour has also promised to stop overseas only recruitment and to ensure that there are thorough investigations into the working conditions of companies, and that they are paying at least the minimum wage for homegrown employees. Acknowledging the need to create new trade agreements with countries outside the EU, the Labour manifesto promises to use their recently launched Just Trading Initiative to develop free trade and investment agreements that remove trade barriers and promote skilled jobs and high standards.

Healthcare is a very important issue to many within the UK Labour has promised to ensure patients have access to treatment within eighteen weeks, and to reduce waiting times in A and E to four hours, by using resources more effectively and efficiently. Labour would also increase funding for GP services, and halt pharmacy cuts, they would also remove the post code lottery on health treatment currently in existence. They would also invest a further £30 billion into the NHS, to help improve the quality of training that doctors and nurses are receiving, and to create a Child Health Index to monitor the development of children’s health throughout their lives. In tandem with this they would create a National Care Service to help the elderly, to lower the strain on the NHS.

On housing, by using brownfield sites, Labour hopes to build 100,000 new homes during the course of the new Parliament, 4000 of which would be for those with a record of sleeping rough. They would also introduce controls on rent rises, provide more secure three year tenancies, proper landlord licensing and provide new consumer rights for renters. Labour would also reintroduce housing benefit for 18-21 year olds to reduce the number of young people sleeping rough on the street.

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Local Democracy: Is It Good?

Local democracy is heralded by some as a way of lessening the control Westminster and London in general exerts over the UK. It is seen as a way of bringing greater interest and participation in politics, after all, the reasoning goes, people are more likely to get out and vote if they are voting for issues that directly concern them. Local councillors are supposed to be from the area they represent, unlike MPs who can be from any part of the country.  This feeling of community is what many hope and believe will reignite interest in politics within the country. The evidence as of May 2017 seems to suggest otherwise unfortunately.

A common complaint about local democracy, especially local councils, is that citizens do not really know what the local city council, or county council actually does. Politics in the United Kingdom is so tied down with Westminster, or Edinburgh or Cardiff or Belfast, that many do not really have the information available for them to make an informed decision about who to vote for, for their local council. This can be partially laid at the door of the local councils themselves.  Local councils are not always very good at highlighting just what role they place in shaping local policy, they tend to just do as they have always done, ignoring tools such as the internet and social media that could help them better explain their role in setting council tax, bin collections, road works, help with parks and recreational centres.

Consequently, without properly doing one part of their job which is to ensure that people are informed about their role and job specification, local councils are simply increasing the impression that it is Westminster that does all the work, and that local councils are merely an unnecessary rung of bureaucracy. Indeed, Margaret Rohan a senior members’ services manager at Croydon council in 2012 said that “Councils should provide more information about what they do, as a lot of their work goes unnoticed. Councils are dilatory in feeding back when they do respond to complaints: they often tend to get on and address an issue but fail to confirm what they have done to the complainant, so residents are left thinking they have been ignored.”

Local elections also have the cross to bear of being used as a testing ground for both political parties and the electorate for national issues. In the recent council elections, the conservatives made gains across the country, gaining 38% of the popular vote, which was an increase of 8% from 2016, whilst Labour’s support fell by 4%. Commentators across the political spectrum have seen this as a sign for the national election, where the Conservatives are expected to make big gains at the expense of all other parties. Reflecting the feeling amongst political pundits, and some of the electorate that out of a cluster of very questionable leaders, Theresa May’s branding of ‘strong and stable’ government and her ‘Hard Brexit’ attitude is winning her a lot of points with voters.

The elections of Metro Mayors in Manchester, Teesside and the West Midlands were also used as staging grounds for the general election in a month’s time with things like Brexit, and the NHS playing a key hand in determining which way people voted. Conservative gains in the West Midlands and Teesside reflected a trend in those areas of being pro-Brexit and wanting something different compared to a failing Labour party. However, turnout in both elections was quite low. In the West Midlands, it stood at the appalling 26%. Consequently, just how much of a mandate the new West Midlands mayor will have is up for debate. When people in the West Midlands were asked if they were going to be voting, many did not even know there was an election happening, whilst others said they would be spoiling their ballot, as they did not see the point in having another level of bureaucracy.

Whilst this highlights the risks of holding local elections with the lack of information out there for people to use to get informed, it also highlights that on some level the people are engaged. A desperate man might argue that it is better for people to get out and vote, even if they are not voting for the issues that are directly at play in the local elections than to not vote at all. And whilst the turnout for the local elections in 2017 varied between 26 and 33%, there were many who said they would have voted had they actually known more about what the local councils did and what their councillors stood for. So, that can be taken as an encouraging sign.

Secondly, from this writer’s experience working in Birmingham City Council, the local councillors are fully aware of the issues that affect their communities, and they come up with reasonable and proper solutions for these issues, something that is often lacking from Westminster. Combined with their desire to work in coalitions to handle the big issues, such as new road developments, funding for centres that prevent youth trouble etc. they are working together to try and enact settlements that benefit the entire community, not giving into the partisan politicking that can often happen in Westminster.

To conclude, there are problems with local democracy, it can be a burden, another level of bureaucracy that might not be needed in times when the public is ill informed. But in the present political climate, with Westminster looking to make cuts here and there, as they prepare for Brexit, local councils are increasingly needed, as is local democracy. Only locally chosen politicians can truly know the issues that affect their localities, with a greater push on the information front, there is nothing stopping the local electorate becoming more informed about the role of local politicians, and ensuring proper engagement.

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Andy Street’s Key Pledges

Andy Street, the former John Lewis boss, and the Conservative candidate for West Midlands Mayor, surprised many when he won the mayoral election on Thursday 4th May. Mr Street won the election on the back of making several promises to bring change and improvement to the West Midlands, and to ensure that the region was not left behind, in these changing times. The West Midlands Mayor will have control over transport, housing and jobs.

During the campaign, Andy Street highlighted the importance of developing a proper transport network within the West Midlands to ensure that people could get to work on time, and to do the things they wished to in their spare time. To this end, he proposed opening several new tram and train lines between Birmingham City Centre and various other areas of Birmingham, such as King’s Heath and Moseley. Mr Street has also discussed improving the car parks in Birmingham and other areas in the West Midlands to ensure better security for citizens and their cars.

Mr Street highlighted the importance of ensuring that people were given the tools to get back into work during the campaign as well. He focused on ensuring that apprenticeships were rolled out for the people, including digital apprenticeships, to ensure that the people of the West Midlands had the skills needed to succeed in an increasingly competitive and changing world. Mr Street focused particularly on increasing youth employment through his digital apprenticeship scheme, and through ensuring that they were put through an employment boot camp to properly equip them for the world of work.

Housing was highlighted throughout the mayoral campaign as a serious issue for the people of the West Midlands. The candidates all expressed the ways in which they hoped to address this issue, Mr Street amongst them. Mr Street proposed building new houses on allotments of green belt, as well as on brown belt. This, he argued during the campaign would spread the balance of housing development, whilst also preserving valuable patches of green belt for conservation. He proposed that this method would help see 25,000 houses built in the West Midlands over three years.

Now that he has been elected mayor, Mr Street will have a tough task ahead of him. It will be interesting to see whether he is fit for the challenge!

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Vote In The West Midlands Mayoral Election!

Today is the voting day for the West Midlands Mayoral Election. This is a very important election for the West Midlands.  For too long London has dictated policy to the area and the city council has simply bowed its head and gone along with it. The West Midlands has suffered as a consequence. Now we have the chance to take some initiative and ensure that the person or people making policy are actually living in the area and are aware of what exactly the issues facing the people of the West Midlands are.

The West Midlands Mayor will have control over transport, housing and economic policy. Considering how dire the situation regarding all three issues is within the West Midlands,  this is a very important position. All candidates have come out with manifestos highlighting how they would address these issues, from Andy Street’s rail links between Birmingham City Centre and Moseley to Sion Simon’s right to work schemes for the young, and Beverley Nielsen’s shop and buy local schemes.

Each candidate has spent time meeting with residents of the West Midlands to discuss the key issues they feel need to be addressed within the area. All of the candidates are determined to make the best of Brexit. All seem passionate about the region. Now it is just down to the people of the West Midlands to get out and vote.

Please do not give up this chance to influence the shape the governance of this region takes. Vote, and justify your faith in the democratic process.  We have been given a brilliant opportunity, do not waste it.

Voting booths are open till ten in evening today!

 

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West Midlands Mayoral Election

After months of debate and commentary, voters in Birmingham will go to the polls on Thursday 4th May 2017 to vote on who the new mayor of the West Midlands should be. The candidates are Labour’s Sion Simon, Conservative Andy Street, Liberal Democrat’s Beverley Nielsen, UKIP’s Pete Durnell, Green candidate James Burn and Communist candidate Graham Stevenson.

Prominent policies that have emerged during the campaign include increasing youth employment, developing a proper transport system within the West Midlands and ensuring that there are enough houses to meet increasing demand.

The two favourites for the position of mayor, per the polls, are Labour’s Sion Simon, and Conservative candidate Andy Street.  They agree on the key issues but disagree over how to handle them.

Sion Simon would convene a board of leaders in education in the West Midlands and receive their advice about the best way to approach improving education within the area. He would then implement their suggestions in order to create what he believes to be a more effective and skilful workforce.

Andy Street, on the other hand would meet with teachers and education experts, canvas their opinions and then mould their suggestions to his view of how things should be improved. He would also implement a digital boot camp, to help increase the digital skills of young people in the West Midlands, followed by introducing apprenticeships and youth employment schemes aimed at giving young people a foot on the ladder.

Simon and Street follow a similar path to their fellow candidates Beverley Nielsen and James Burn who would issue bus and metro passes at affordable rates to encourage people to travel by public transport services. They would also propose increasing the metro lines within Birmingham itself.

The issue of increasing the number of houses within the West Midlands is where candidates differentiated themselves. Some like Mr Street believe that houses should be built on the green belt and the brown belt, whilst others such as Mrs Nielsen were in favour of using brown belt sites.

There are still two days left before voting takes place, so there is still time for undecided voters to make up their mind. This election is an important one for deciding the present and future direction of the West Midlands. Make sure to get out and vote for the candidate that you think most benefits you!