The St Martin’s Group’s reaction to the local elections

The local elections earlier this month appeared to have shone a light on the path to potential victory that Labour will try to go down at the general election, recently announced for the 4th July. A set of disappointing results for the Conservatives saw the party lose 474 councillors, making them now the third largest party, behind the Liberal Democrats. The results also show that Labour is making the most gains in ‘Leave’ voting areas, which will be crucial in overturning the Conservative parliamentary majority.

Importantly, voting for 10 metro mayors across England took place, who collectively control £25 billion of public spending. These mayors are in charge of the combined authorities which have had powers devolved from Westminster and have control over Adult Education Budgets (AEB).  

Labour gains

One of the most significant results was the Labour victory in the West Midlands mayoralty, one of the key battlegrounds. Andy Street, the Conservative incumbent Mayor of the West Midlands, narrowly lost to Labour candidate, Richard Parker.

Parker’s manifesto put jobs, skills and apprenticeships centre-stage. It pledged to create 150,000 new jobs and training places across the new region. This included a guarantee of high-quality apprenticeships to every young person who needs one, skills and training for people who want to retrain into new jobs, and ultimately, more well-paying jobs across the West Midlands. Importantly, the manifesto included a pledge to work with businesses, universities and colleges, and trainers to review the apprenticeship levy to ensure it works for the skills needs of local businesses in growth areas.

Labour’s victory in the West Midlands, and wins in the new mayoral seats in the East Midlands, the North East and York and North Yorkshire, emphasise Labour’s appeal across the country, giving the party significantly more power in the devolved regions. As such, Keir Starmer wants to build on this momentum. He recently announced that he will bring together Labour’s newly expanded team of mayors to develop the “gold standard” of regional economies and affirm that regional devolution will remain on top of the agenda for a new Labour government.

Whilst Labour won the three new mayoral seats, and flipped the West Midlands, the party also retained the mayoralties of Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, the Liverpool City Region, and Greater London. The bright spot for the Conservatives was Ben Houchen retaining his Tees Valley mayoralty, meaning he remains in control of the £30 million adult education budget for Tees Valley. As part of his agenda on skills, Houchen opened Teesworks Skills Academy, a one-stop-shop that links investors, contractors, end-users, employment hubs, skills providers, job seekers and apprentices to create a workforce that will support a growing economy in the North East.

Local decision-making

Overall, these results were a strong showing for Labour, and emphasise that devolution will likely be high on the agenda if the party wins the general election in the summer. However, despite political pledges, it has been warned that there needs to be specific commitments over a range of policies, including skills, for successful devolution to truly be realised.

Successful skills policy needs to be aligned to regional and national skills and economic priorities. It must create a skills policy that creates a thriving workforce, supports economic growth, and enables social mobility.