ANDY STREET has gone from being the managing director of retail giant John Lewis to throwing his hat into the ring for Conservative mayorship of the West Midlands within months.
The businessman from Birmingham is hoping to seize control of the region’s £36.5 million a year budget in May to spend on infrastructure such as better roads or rail links and other priorities.
But first, he needs to convince 2.5 million voters that he’s the man for the job.
Street has just returned from a whistle-stop visit to India and Pakistan to discuss trade and investment into the West Midlands.
During a trip to London last Wednesday (8), he spoke to Eastern Eye about his visit and his big plans for the area.
“It was very important to go and establish relationships before taking on this role… both India and Pakistan have substantial populations in the West Midlands,” he said.
In India, Street spoke to staff at the Department of International Trade to talk about encouraging more Indo-British trade before meeting senior members of the Tata group to discuss its manufacturing arm Jaguar Land Rover and potential further investment into the West Midlands.
The company has several plants in the area and recently announced the new
Velar Land Rover model would be built exclusively in Solihull.
“India is hugely important because of Tata, it has been the biggest success story. It is a huge economy, if you think of the post-Brexit world, it is an obvious opportunity,” Street said. He describes Pakistan as a country which is going to grow very fast.
His visit included a meeting with the British high commissioner, Thomas Drew.
The West Midlands is the second most ethnically diverse part of the UK after London, with an Asian population of over ten per cent according to the last census.
Street explained he has made a concerted effort not to target particular ethnic groups with different messages during his campaign, a mistake that Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith paid for in the London mayoral elections when he sent targeted pamphlets out to Indians and Sri Lankans.
Among his key pledges, Street has promised to eliminate youth unemployment by investing in skills and apprenticeships, and improve the transport network. His main competition, he said, is Labour’s Sion Simon; the Liberal Democrat’s have put forward Beverly Nielson while James Burn is
running for the Green party.
Explaining why he stepped down from his lucrative job to enter politics, Street said he had seen Birmingham decline and then spring up again, but there was still a “hell of a way to go, there’s so much potential that’s why I stepped out of a job I love in order to take on this particular role”.
It was in the late 1970s that he became a Conservative after seeing his city struggle, and later became president of his universities Conservative
He said: “I thought we have to get people to strive for themselves, and as a whole, society will thrive off the back of that.”
Despite earning a six figure salary in his last role and gaining a place to study Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford University in the 80s, Street insisted he has not led a privileged life.
“I started off in a very normal life in Birmingham and I had opportunities and I seized them, what I want to do is make sure other people have opportunities too.
“The type of thing I have done in the past does demonstrate I’m in touch with normal working people. I’m not a career politician, I have a fresh approach and a track record of delivering.”