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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Food Banks"

Andy Street: What we’re doing in the West Midlands to combat the coronavirus.

Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.

Here in the Midlands, we find ourselves the second largest hotspot of the UK’s coronavirus outbreak.

Each morning, the latest figures make grim reading, and serve as a reminder of the risks our brave NHS and care staff are taking for us on the frontline. Yet it is vital that we also recognise the incredible spirit that is being shown as we face this health crisis. As Mayor of the West Midlands, I have been privileged to see how all facets of our community have come together, and in this column I want to acknowledge their efforts.

From the thousands who stood on their doorsteps to applaud NHS and care workers to the hand-drawn rainbows that decorate windows across the region, we are seeing a level of unity that is nothing short of inspirational.

The way that local people have tackled the lockdown also speaks volumes about their nature. It’s easy to fixate on a handful of national stories about those who flout the rules, but the fact is that West Midlands people are doing their best to help stop the spread of this virus, by staying indoors and away from their family and friends.

In a place that usually bustles with diversity and industry, the lockdown has hit hard. However, we are working to put in place the support that people need to get through the crisis.

Thousands of proud business owners – the people who have made the West Midlands the economic powerhouse that it is – have been forced to shut up shop. I’m pleased to say the money provided by Government to support businesses is already reaching those who need it. Our seven boroughs of Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton are distributing £551 million to the 50,000 small businesses who qualify. These councils are busting all conventions to get this money out as quickly as possible, supported by the private sector.

As Mayor, I have been hosting the West Midlands Economic Impact Group, which brings together business and community leaders to ensure the best use of Government help, while providing feedback directly to ministers. However, while central Government is pumping unprecedented financial support into the system, I believe it is also the job of the regions to take care of the most important part of our economy – our people.

We have never experienced a lockdown of this nature before. The impact on the wellbeing of our citizens is an unknown. As Government works with us to immunise the economy from the side effects of the virus, The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has rolled out a series of measures that aim to support individuals.

First of all, businesses are being offered practical advice and support on how to keep staff who work from home mentally and physically fit during the lockdown. So many people are thinking about how to change their work to reflect social distancing. Even our homeless outreach charities face a different challenge now rough sleepers have been offered accommodation.

A WMCA guide, called Thrive at Home, provides bosses with useful information on maintaining staff wellbeing as they adapt to new working practices. Topics covered by the guide include helping staff deal with anxiety, especially those with existing mental health conditions, eat healthily and cope with financial uncertainty.

Through the members of the Mayor and Faith Conference, we are also addressing the spiritual life of the region. The government’s restrictions may have resulted in the cancellation of church services, suspension of prayers and daily activities at mosques, gurdwaras and prayer halls. However, faith groups are stepping up to the challenge of adapting practices. Some have mobilised hundreds of volunteers and are working to get aid to the most vulnerable in a safe and secure way. They are all working out how religious occasions can be celebrated virtually.

That ‘virtual’ world has never seemed so important. With everyone staying indoors, online platforms are the best way to reach people. Two new websites launched here provide valuable connectivity – one establishes an interactive Community Hub where they can access support such as food banks, while another helps people develop new skills as they work from home. They may be online, but these new resources illustrate the proliferation of voluntary groups stepping up to support the community, from volunteers reaching out to rough sleepers to the dozens of restaurants offering deals to NHS heroes.

We are also continuing to support local colleges during the coronavirus outbreak. The WMCA is responsible for the region’s £126m adult education budget (AEB), which equips local people with the skills they need to get new and better jobs. These payments to colleges are continuing throughout the crisis.

But perhaps the most obvious way in which we are keeping the economy moving – literally – is the flexible approach being applied to public transport. Passenger numbers, of course, have plummeted during the lockdown but there remains a vital need to provide transport for key workers and the vulnerable.

Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), which oversees public transport and operates the Midland Metro, is focusing all its attention on keeping services running for those that rely on them. That means that while timetables have been cut back, vital services are still running. With supermarkets opening early for the elderly and vulnerable, we have lifted the traditional rush-hour restrictions on concessionary bus passes. Simple, small things like this can have a huge beneficial effect.

We have also seen changes that ensure our transport networks support the dedicated NHS and care workers who are on the front line of the fight against COVID-19. The drivers of the region’s fleet of Ring and Ride buses, who usually help the elderly and vulnerable get about, suggested that they be used to ferry key NHS workers from car parks to hospitals during the lockdown.

Finally, NHS staff will get free travel on all buses and trams in the West Midlands as they go to work to battle the coronavirus pandemic – simply by showing their NHS pass. Again, this was an idea suggested by the bus companies themselves.

However, if you really want to see how the West Midlands is pulling together to tackle coronavirus, the best example is taking shape now at the NEC, outside Birmingham.

Thousands of skilled contractors have converged on the site to create our region’s own NHS Nightingale Hospital, which will be fully operational on April 12. To hit this deadline will take an immense team effort, but the public sector, the military and private companies are working round the clock to make it happen.

The hospital will initially have a 500-bed capacity, which can be scaled up by 1,500 to reach 2,000 beds. The speed with which this remarkable facility is being built is testament to the expertise of the tradespeople behind it. It also reflects the determination felt here as we prepare for the outbreak to reach its peak.

These are unprecedented times, but the people of the West Midlands are showing that they have the strength and collective endeavour to beat this virus.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Andy Street: My seven tests to find the right Prime Minister for the West Midlands

Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.

So the race is on, and the stakes could not be higher. The prize may be the ultimate one, but the responsibility is daunting: to unite the party, to deliver Brexit, but more significantly – to defeat the twin perils of Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage, to turn our backs on false populism, and demonstrate that the centre of British politics can once again deliver radical thinking and dramatic outcomes for our citizens. It’s been done before, by Macmillan, Thatcher and Cameron, and no less a re-invention is required now.

Against that background, I have decided that instead of endorsing a candidate I should set out seven tests for any future Prime Minister.  These are chosen not from a factional or ideological standpoint, but from what I see doing the job of Mayor. I firmly believe they are in the interests of the people of the West Midlands.

They build on the strong economic legacy of the last nine years and on the value set of Theresa May. They also accelerate the radical thinking started by David Cameron towards devolution, whilst acknowledging the challenges of urban Britain which have persisted whilst government has been focused on Brexit.

So, the West Midlands needs a Prime Minister who –

1) Is restless in tackling the real issues which matter locally

That means providing well-paid jobs, quality housing, and skills for the fourth industrial revolution, as well as facing the challenges of climate change and the future of our town centres. These are the issues that voters care about. They want to see innovation and tangible outcomes.

A new leader will also support and recognise the crucial role of public services locally; the NHS, Councils and the police, and fund each of them appropriately.

The key will be leadership, both to galvanise original thinking and to deliver real change through government at all levels.

2) Understands the Power of Business as a Force for Good

The new Prime Minister will value responsible businesses which create jobs, drive the economy, and support wellbeing. That means giving them what they need: stability, infrastructure, skills, transport, and fair taxation. In particular, hard-working small businesses and entrepreneurs must know that they are valued. We must forge ahead with adopting new technology such as gigabit broadband, 5G and online public services.

3)  Champions realism over Ideology

First and foremost, the new Prime Minister must deliver a Brexit which honours the referendum result whilst meeting the economic needs of the West Midlands. Then they have to win the argument that a modern, mixed economy can work for everyone, and thus deliver the aspirations of the millennial generation. They will be unfaltering in sharing their economic vision and ideas, and thus restore public confidence and hope. While protecting the market’s freedom to deliver, they must be willing to intervene where necessary, for example in the provision of affordable homes.

4) Recognises the Importance of the Regions

With three quarters of The UK’s GDP generated outside London, vibrant nations and regions are critical to our success. Cities, towns and rural communities need the support of Government to create a strong but more balanced economy, and a fairer society.

A firm pledge to support HS2, as part of a comprehensive investment in addressing historic underinvestment in regional infrastructure, is the most clear signal of a commitment to Britain beyond London. HS2 is the modern hallmark of a One Nation party, as it will literally unite the country and drive regeneration in the Midlands and the North. Turning back on this commitment would be unthinkable.

The new Prime Minister will also understand the critical importance of communities who have not shared in economic success, and be a passionate advocate of addressing the underlying issues of driving aspiration and opportunity.

5) Sees the Role All Our Communities Have to Play

Our new Prime Minister needs to be a visible champion of all faiths, ethnicities and under-represented groups. They must demonstrate that they believe in the unique power of communities to work together to create a harmonious country where mixing is a source of innovation and enrichment.

They must be brave and principled in addressing any injustices, as May pledged.

6) Reaches Beyond the Comfortable to Those Who Are Struggling

The new Prime Minister must truly believe that the ultimate test of any society is the way in which it supports the less fortunate.

For example, the British public know that homelessness and the use of foodbanks in the UK today is wrong. They want someone who understands, listens and has a serious plan to sort it out.

They will face up to social challenges: how do we, as a society, support those with mental health problems, and how do we respond to communities blighted by crime and substance abuse? However, all of this requires more than just warm words – there must be a concrete plan of action, with serious Government cash set aside to tackle such issues.

7) Lives life as an optimist

Finally, we need a Prime Minister who believes in Britain, the British people, and our role in the world as an example of liberal values and individual rights.

A new Prime Minister must bring a new lease of life to the country, and a new wave of optimism after the gruelling Brexit debates of the last few months. They must lead Britain as an outward-looking, internationalist country, that takes global responsibility naturally.

He or she must be a unionist, but with a respect for the differences between our nations and regions, cherishing what makes us proud locally, but as part of one United Kingdom.

For us in the West Midlands, this means grasping opportunities such as Coventry hosting the City of Culture in 2021, and Birmingham welcoming the Commonwealth Games in 2022. We need our Prime Minister to be a cheerleader around the world.

Above all else, the new Conservative leader must be someone who can win. We are at a historic moment for the party and the country. Our new leader will need to navigate the waters of Brexit negotiations, and fight Corbyn. But they also need to set out a powerful new domestic agenda which lifts up and inspires communities like ours in the West Midlands. The stakes couldn’t be higher, and I hope that MPs, members, and the country will make a good choice.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com