Councillor Sharon Thompson, Birmingham City Council’s Cabinet Member for Housing and Homelessness, reflects on the impact that the Commonwealth Games will make in Birmingham.
On Thursday 28th July, the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games will get underway, kick-starting 11 days of sport and bringing the global spotlight onto a city that for too long has been underappreciated in the eyes of the world.
This will be the biggest event that Birmingham has ever played host to, and over a billion people around the world will be watching as my city hosts the 22nd edition of the Commonwealth Games. As the largest local authority in Europe, and the largest Labour-led authority in the UK, Birmingham City Council has played a key role in helping the city to prepare the Games.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic and a reduced timescale due to Birmingham’s late selection as host-city following Durban’s withdrawal, the Council and our partners have transformed the once-tired looking Alexander Stadium in Perry Barr into one of the finest athletics stadiums in the world and delivered the magnificent Sandwell Aquatics Centre on time and on budget.
I am confident that the Games will be a huge success, with world class sporting action inspiring a new generation of athletes in Birmingham, and the Birmingham Festival showcasing budding artists and performers across our city. However, the true measure of the Games will be seen in the lasting legacies of new homes, new jobs, and new opportunities.
The Games have leveraged over £750 million of investment into Perry Barr, delivering new housing and upgraded bus and rail infrastructure. The Council has developed the Perry Barr 2040 Masterplan which will ultimately deliver 5,000 new homes, new public realm, business facilities and improved transport links, meaning that this neighbourhood will be transformed thanks to the Games.
The Commonwealth Games come at the beginning of a Golden Decade of Opportunity for Birmingham, which will culminate in the arrival of High Speed Two. The key challenge for us as a Labour local authority, is to ensure that the benefits of this decade are shared with every community across the city, and that the economic investment that is pouring into the region at a record level is leveraged to tackle the socio-economic inequalities that still hold far too many Brummies back.
Our rate of unemployment is double the national average, 42% of our children grow up in relative poverty, and there is a ten-year gap in life expectancy between the richest and the poorest neighbourhoods. These are the stark challenges that we must tackle, and they form the basis of our ask to the government, laid out in Prosperity and Opportunity for All: Birmingham’s Levelling Up Strategy, which outlines the five ‘levelling up accelerators’ which would improve the lives and life chances of our citizens.
The Levelling Up Strategy makes it clear, however, that Birmingham City Council cannot deliver these accelerators without significant government investment. Whilst the government may make the right noises on levelling up, Councils across the UK are left fighting each other for an all-too-small pot of money.
Like all Labour local authority politicians, I look forward to the day that Labour wins power nationally. However, as local politicians we cannot just wait for that to happen, rather we have to get to grips with the consequences of a decade of austerity. We must find ways to deliver real change for our citizens, using inward investment as the driving force.
Birmingham is a growing city, and by the end of the decade there will be an extra 150,000 people living here. This means that we will need to deliver affordable new homes, and we have an ambitious target to deliver 51,000 new homes by 2031.
We also have the significant challenge of making our existing housing stock fit for the future, and it is clear that we cannot meet our ambitious climate goals without making our homes more energy efficient.
A key element of our Levelling Up Strategy is our ambition to retrofit the 60,000 social homes in Birmingham to make them more energy efficient, cheaper to heat, and warmer to live in. This is an agenda that the Council is determined to take forward, and by working hand in hand with the private sector we can grow vast numbers of skilled jobs in this industry and deliver tangible benefits to our tenants which will last for years to come.
Birmingham’s Labour Council has got to grips with the problems that we face as a city, and we know which mechanisms can be used to address them. What we need more than ever is a Labour government that give local authorities the power and the funding that we need to truly level up for our communities.
The Commonwealth Games promise to be a fantastic celebration of Birmingham and whilst the sporting events may only last for 11 days, I am confident that their legacy will last for decades. This goes to show that major events can have a hugely positive impact on the economic development of a city, and they are the greatest global advertisement to attract investment. This investment will help us to deliver the future that we want for our residents, with better homes, better jobs, and better opportunities for all.
For more on the role that Labour authorities can play to make a difference locally, see ‘Local authorities must play a pivotal role in Britain’s economic renaissance‘