Many are familiar with the position of the Mayor of London for its rather flamboyant, headline-grabbing incumbents, such as Boris Johnson or current mayor Sadiq Khan. However, as part of the government’s push for regional devolution, a number of areas, including the West Midlands, are electing mayors this year. Those who live on campus will have the chance to vote on 4th May in what could be an extremely important role for the development of the university and the wider Coventry area.
The Conservative candidate for the mayoralty, Andy Street, boasts an impressive CV. He was Managing Director of the John Lewis partnership from 2007-2016, during which sales increased by 50% and the number of stores doubled. He even oversaw the creation of the monolith of British culture that is the John Lewis Christmas advert.
While he undoubtedly has an impressive business acumen, it will be his political ideas on which he is judged and to that end, I sat down with him in the quiet expanse of a Humanities seminar room to discuss his plans for students at Warwick.
Those who live on campus will have the chance to vote on 7 May in what could be an extremely important role for the development of the university and the wider Coventry area.
As many of you will experience on a daily basis, commuting into Warwick is not a pleasant experience at all. Overcrowded, late, always too hot or too cold. Bus services often lack basic standards of comfort. As the mayor will assume complete franchising powers over bus services from Coventry into the university, I asked Mr Street how he planned to improve these services.
Through the many “good meetings” he told me he had with National Express, he has “no plans to change the bus franchising system,” as it currently stands, which may come as a surprise to irate students. Mr Street states that the primary issue with bus services coming from Coventry is the high level of congestion on the roads. “Two thirds of journeys are made by private car and at the morning peak 80% of cars only have one person.” Mr Street built on this and suggested that Coventry needed a ‘modal shift’ away from cars towards greener and less congesting forms of transport.
Referencing the huge public investment that London has, he based his strategy on lobbying for much more money from central government. Although his optimism might be somewhat misplaced in what is still a relatively cash-strapped time for the British exchequer, he remains steadfast, citing his natural advantage as a Conservative candidate.
Mr Street suggested that Coventry needed a ‘modal shift’ away from cars towards greener and less congesting forms of transport.
He starts to beam. “I have an extremely good relationship with Theresa May, she used my name twice during prime minister’s questions,” he says trying to contain his excitement. Although his business acumen and party connections will undoubtedly make for a good lobbyer, it is uncertain whether he will get all he wants due to the myriad of factors determining public spending.
Moving to the subject of off-campus student living, it is no secret that Coventry has gained a somewhat downtrodden reputation in the minds of many students, with the sleeker and more polished image of Royal Leamington Spa providing an attractive home to many. Mr Street seems determined to reverse this. He already notes the £100m investment in the south side of Coventry city centre which has been confirmed in the last month, creating a large retail space within walking distance for many students.
Coventry has gained a somewhat downtrodden reputation in the minds of many students […] Mr Street seems determined to reverse this
Moreover, crime is often quoted as a big reason why people are put off Coventry. Ali, a second-year History student, confirms this perception, telling the Boar: “The area is kind of rough… I know several people who have been mugged or violated in public.”
Clearly dismayed with the fall in “standards of maintenance’” in many areas of Coventry, he states that he is a firm believer in a ‘broken windows’ approach to policing, whereby a zero tolerance approach is taken to small misdemeanours such as underage drinking and vandalism. It is hoped that this would reduce more serious crime by making it more noticeable, however a more heavy handed approach by police may not be welcomed by all.
In the aftermath of The Slate occupation, I asked for Mr Street’s opinions on the proposed increase in tuition fees from £9,000 to £9,250, even though this is beyond his mayoral remit. Noting that the “increase is relatively small”, he did not seem to be too concerned by it.
Contrary to recent student activism, Mr Street also views the increased presence of corporate interests on campus as a force for good.
“This university could probably charge more if it were not for the government cap,” he adds. Unsurprising from a Tory candidate, but it may not be music to the ears of many students who already think £9,000 is excessive. Contrary to recent student activism, Mr Street also views the increased presence of corporate interests on campus as a force for good.
“The commercial part is helping drive the quality of the other parts… there’s no conflict at all!” While this may be genuinely true, it is painfully unhelpful in the light of the £35 ticket I found on my window that very morning after parking in a Jaguar Land Rover space for a short while.
As the meeting came to a conclusion, I asked if Mr Street would distance himself from the divisive campaign of Zac Goldsmith in London. Clearly eager to set a unique brand, he confidently proclaimed: “At the end of the campaign, judge my campaign and compare it with Zac’s and I think you’ll see that it’s different.”
Voting commences on 4th May