One of the Prime Minister’s closest allies has been appointed as the new Minister for the West Midlands.
Ian Austin (Lab Dudley North) vowed to fight for a fair deal for the region, saying: “I won’t be the Government’s man in the West Midlands, but the West Midlands’ man in the Government.”
He takes over from Birmingham Hodge Hill MP Liam Byrne, who has been promoted to co-ordinate Government policy as head of the Cabinet Office, in a role which involves attending Cabinet meetings.
It is among a series of promotions for West Midlands MPs as Gordon Brown completed a wide-ranging overhaul of his junior ministerial team which saw major changes in every department.
Among them is:
* Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East), a former policy adviser to Tony Blair, is installed as new Business Secretary Peter Mandelson’s deputy – meaning he will represent the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform at the despatch box in the House of Commons as his boss will be in the House of Lords.
* Birmingham Erdington MP Sion Simon – who was among those to sign the backbenchers’ letter which prompted Tony Blair to announce a timetable for his resignation in 2006 – has a junior post in the Universities Department as Skills Minister.
* Ian Pearson (Dudley South), Minister of State for Science and Innovation, becomes Economic Secretary to the Treasury.
* Cabinet Office Minister Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) becomes parliamentary secretary to the Cabinet Office.
* Mike O’Brien and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath have been given ministerial posts in the new energy and climate change department.
Lord Hunt, who resigned in opposition to the Iraq war in 2003 but was made a Junior Justice Minister last year, is also made Deputy Leader of the House of Lords.
Mr Austin, who also becomes a Government whip, was Gordon Brown’s Parliamentary Private Secretary before last week’s reshuffle.
In this role he advised the Prime Minister on strategy and press relations, and served as a link between Downing Street and the Parliamentary Labour Party.
But his relationship with the Prime Minister stretches back further than his election to the House of Commons in 2005.
The former Dudley councillor was one of Mr Brown’s special advisers in the Treasury for six years, speaking on his behalf to the media.
Mr Austin will attend a Regional Economic Council, chaired by Mr Byrne, which has been created to support the new National Economic Council, made up of business leaders and Cabinet ministers.
The new structures have been created to find ways of seeing the country through the current economic turmoil, including the failure in the banking system and inflation caused by rising food and energy prices.
In his press conference last week, Mr Brown said: “I have asked our new regional ministers ... to work together in a new regional Economic Council to ensure that all the issues raised in each of the regions of our country, and the concerns, particularly of small businesses, are heard and acted upon across government.”
Mr Austin said: “As the Prime Minister said on Friday, the Government’s entire focus has to be on doing everything we can to ensure the stability of our economy.
“So my priority will be to help safeguard the security of families in the Midlands and the companies on whom the region’s jobs and prosperity depend.
“Britain is facing a period of immense economic challenges, and whilst they might have been caused by events overseas, they’re having a real impact on families here in the West Midlands. But we have faced economic difficulties in the past and we face this crisis with a stronger economy than in the past, with a decade of growth, high employment and lower interest rates than in the eighties and the nineties, for example.”
“As someone who lives and works in the region, I know that the people and businesses of the West Midlands have the skills, the flexibility and the resourcefulness to come through and emerge even stronger than before.
“Our challenge will be to build on that by driving up skills, attracting more businesses and investment to the region, promoting enterprise and creating more jobs. I will be visiting every part of the region talking – and more importantly listening – to everyone and anyone with positive ideas for tackling our current difficulties and strengthening the region’s economy.”