Birmingham Commonwealth Games Bill

11th June 2020

Andrew Mitchell speaks in the debate on the Third Reading of the Bill.

I will start where the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) finished, but before I do I congratulate both Front Benchers on, if I may use a sporting analogy, being thrown in the deep end in order to take the Bill through. They both spoke really well about the importance of the games and of the Bill. They also both look very fit and well following the dreadful lockdown, which has affected us all. I may be stretching a point, but perhaps we will see them both training in Sutton Park, which will play such an important part in the games.

The Bill provides an optimistic and encouraging moment because, as the hon. Lady said, it gives us a chance to look beyond the acute challenges that our country is facing at the moment and is genuinely something to look forward to. Boy, are we going to need it. Quite apart from the games, the sport, the fun and the excitement, all of which mean so much to so many people around the world, for us in the west midlands it is about the boost to our local economy, which we all know we must maximise. It is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create thousands of jobs, new homes and a massive improvement to the public realm.

At a local level in Sutton Coldfield, we are delighted that our historic park is going to come into active use. It is the place where King Henry VIII used to hunt and where soldiers undertook their training in trench warfare before heading off to the western front in the first world war, and it was also visited by Her Majesty the Queen and 30,000 others to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the scouting movement in 1957. In Sutton Coldfield, we will proudly host the triathlon for the games.

In a virtual meeting with the leadership team of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth games, I was pleased to hear about the progress. Nearly three quarters of a billion pounds is involved, and it will leave a tremendous legacy. Locally, I was pleased to hear from the leadership of the Commonwealth games committee that co-operation with Royal Sutton Coldfield Town Council under its leader Simon Ward has been going so well.

My constituents will hopefully benefit greatly from the improved infrastructure in our park, which I believe is the largest municipal park in Europe. It will improve the facilities to be used, including for future events. The gain is not just for businesses locally, but for jobs, community projects and volunteering. The games will require 10,000 local volunteers to welcome people from all over the Commonwealth, as well as to perform in the opening and closing ceremonies and to host athletes and teams at sporting facilities for training purposes. In Sutton Coldfield, we are deeply grateful for the opportunities and very excited by the prospects.

We need to ensure, as the Minister made clear, that all the different organisations involved play their part and work together from now on until the games open. I have worked extremely closely over the past three months with Birmingham City Council and, in particular, with the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne). He and I co-chair a committee that tries to bring together all the local interests in order that we can tackle some of the problems that affect us across Birmingham.

I will leave others to underline the importance of the council’s role and local government, if I may. Instead, I want to refer to the role of the Mayor and the West Midlands Combined Authority, which is absolutely crucial both for the games and for the legacy. I have seen what the London Olympics have done for the east end of London. In particular, through the legacy that went on afterwards, including with the International Inspiration programme chaired by Lord Coe, I saw the huge ability of sport not only to energise children and improve education, also to help health, education and vaccination in the developing world. There is a huge importance to focusing on the legacy that will follow in all its many forms.

I salute the efforts of Andy Street, our Mayor. He was teased, I think, by the right hon. Gentleman earlier about the so-called black hole in the budget. I have said to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I have, through the miracles of modern technology, been able to elicit a response from the Mayor. He said this:

“There is no black hole. Every year, the West Midlands Combined Authority has lived within its budget—both in-year finances and also within investment ceilings. It has been well managed and for example at last week’s board the annual finance review was fully accepted. Citizens of the west midlands have not paid a penny for a Tory mayor, but over £2 billion of new Government cash has been brought into the region since Andy Street was elected. Yes, we are still short of funds for some investments, but they are steadily closing as further new investment comes in.”

Those are the other words of Andy Street, delivered through me to the House on this important point this afternoon.

That was a fantastic defence of the Mayor, and it only lacks the very best wishes conveyed to the Mayor of the West Midlands on the occasion of his birthday today. None the less, all I would ask by way of intervention is for the Mayor to speak to his finance director, because during the transition talks before the mayoral elections were cancelled, it was not my analysis that revealed the £1.2 billion black hole; it was the analysis of his finance director. Admittedly, it took her three weeks to crunch the numbers and produce that figure. This is a gentle ask, I suppose, that we work together to try to repair this rather large hole that the WMCA finance director herself has identified.

It is extremely decent of the right hon. Gentleman, given his current position, to send his best wishes to the Mayor on his birthday. I am sure the Mayor will receive them, if not from one of us Conservative Members then over the airwaves. I reassure the right hon. Gentleman and the House that the Mayor of the West Midlands needs no lectures on financial success, financial ability or financial probity: he ran John Lewis, one of the most respected and most brilliant retail organisations in the country. I have no doubt whatsoever that we are all grateful for that experience, which he is sharing with the people of the west midlands through his mayoralty.

The Mayor has personally lobbied for £21.3 million to support the TTI—tourism trade and investment—programme to maximise the Commonwealth games opportunity, and that is, of course, in addition to the Mayor’s pivotal role in securing for Perry Barr, in respect of the games, £165 million of housing infrastructure fund money, which will help to regenerate a swathe of north Birmingham and leave a legacy of additional housing. All that was agreed in the March Budget this year, and last week, on 5 June, the West Midlands Combined Authority signed off a further £2.6 million as a regional contribution to the programme.

Given the current economic impact of covid-19, all that will have even greater significance, as it will enable us to raise the profile of the region’s businesses and to promote trade and work to secure jobs. In that respect, I particularly welcome the focus that the Mayor, the WMCA and all its partners have placed on using the opportunity of the games to accelerate and improve regional skills and employment opportunities. To help to achieve that, we have the new Commonwealth jobs and skills academy; the Mayor has put £1 million of the devolved adult education budget into funding technical skills for the development for the games.

The £100,000 skills hub in Perry Barr, in partnership with the main contractor, Lendlease, is very encouraging. We know that the construction industry in our region will need 50,000 more trained staff by 2030. The hub, funded by the WMCA, offers local people free skills training and a guaranteed job interview once a 20-day course has been completed. We hope the programme will help 4,600 young people and 2,600 unemployed people to gain skills, experience and then jobs. The games will also benefit, along with the rest of us in the region, from the wider transport investment programme that the Mayor is promoting, including the expansion of the metro network and investment in the rail network.

Having looked at severely local and regional aspects and aspirations, I wish to end by considering the international dimension, to which the hon. Member for Wirral South referred towards the end of her speech, and the Commonwealth itself. By ensuring that the world-class games succeed and bring pleasure to millions, perhaps billions, of people around the globe, Britain underlines the community of nations that is the Commonwealth. It is a north-south organisation, a family of countries co-operating in many different ways. At a time when narrow nationalism is rampant and the case for the international rules-based system is severely on the back foot, let us hope that the games will remind us all that we have much to gain from international co-operation and much to lose when the structures that sustain it breakdown.