The voters of Birmingham and the West Midlands go to the polls on May 4 to choose our first ever Mayor for the West Midlands.
It’s a make or break decision.
Choose the right mayor and they could make a big difference – more jobs, more houses and better transport.
Get it wrong and the region will continue to be regarded as a basket case of under-performance, with low skills, congested roads and railways and high unemployment.
That is why it is important that the residents of this region sit up and take notice, get informed and play their part in choosing the right candidate on May 4.
This first mayor will:
* Run most of our buses and local trains
* Be responsible for delivering thousands of new homes
* And be in charge of growing our economy - which is the size of Wales’s.
All of this will be done with funds which Government departments in London have been forced to hand over under the region’s devolution deal.
Targets already set include half-a-million extra jobs, 153,000 fewer people with no qualifications, 20,000 more businesses and 200,000 more homes by 2030.
There is £4.4 billion on the table to invest in transport – new rail and trams lines are being considered as well as upgrades of our bus network.
Candidates also have a raft of short term policy proposals - such as opening up the M6 Toll road to relieve traffic congestion, converting disused offices into homes or reinstating disused rail lines. Sadly many, probably the vast majority, of residents are not yet aware of the election and what it means. And why should they be with the political focus on Brexit, Trump and Government cuts there is little time for devolution.
The Government’s introduction of Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) election in 2012 was greeted with widespread apathy – a little over ten per cent of people in the West Midlands voted in the first two elections.
That must not be allowed to happen this May.
The PCC was a straight replacement for the old Police Authority committee with no new money on the table.
This is different – the mayor is a completely new role. The mayor will not replace council leaders, they will not be responsible for running social services, emptying bins or sweeping the streets.
This is a metro mayor – similar to the Mayor of London. Think how Ken Livingstone, Boris Johnson and now Sadiq Khan have raised London’s profile on the national and international stage.
Just as London’s mayor sits above 32 boroughs with a cross city remit – so the West Midlands Mayor ties together Birmingham, Coventry, Wolverhampton and our other neighbours in a way they never previously have been.
And this mayor comes gift wrapped with a £36.5 million a year-budget, which can generate an estimated £8 billion for the local economy the next 30 years.
More than that as a directly elected voice for the region the mayor can argue for our industry and jobs with Government and, with a strong vote behind him or her, be listened to by the Government ministers who for too long ignored our leaders.
If we make the right choice the region could be transformed for the better. Get it wrong and we will continue to struggle or tread water.
But the Birmingham Mail is here to give readers all the information, the facts, the opinions and of course the candidates policies to help them make an informed choice.
After that its up to you.