By Tracy Brabin, Mayor of West Yorkshire
Two years ago, you elected me as your first ever Mayor of West Yorkshire.
The significance of that trust has never been lost on me. Growing up in a two-bed council flat in Birstall, I know what it’s like to vote in an election with hope for a better life – and a better West Yorkshire – on the other side.
Be assured that your hope has not been taken for granted. It’s been converted into real change for our communities – whether that’s cheaper buses on our roads, more police officers on our streets, or cold hard cash to make life easier in the cost of living crisis.
As the country’s first and only female Metro Mayor, I know there’s more to do to build a brighter, fairer West Yorkshire that works for all. Work to make us the best place in the country to live, work, set up a business or start a family – regardless of who you are or where you come from.
But to get there, I want to take this important opportunity to reflect on the progress we’ve made. To continue to listen to your priorities. And to carry on delivering everything in my power for this magnificent region we call home.
Where times are tough, we’ve stepped in where Westminster has failed with an emergency cost of living fund
In a cost of living crisis, devolution has allowed our region to rally around our most vulnerable, while Westminster dithers and delays on record inflation.
Our multi-million-pound cost of living fund, announced last October, has provided urgent, direct support to charities and community groups working on the frontline, keeping people warm, fed and supported with their mental health and debts.
For households, we’ve ramped up our retrofit scheme for cold and draughty homes, working with our council housing providers to make 1,700 rented homes warmer, with a further 2,400 scheduled for renovations.
And for our small and medium-sized businesses, we’ve helped them slash their spiralling bills by match-funding energy efficiency measures, saving over 150 businesses in West Yorkshire hundreds or thousands of pounds a year – every year.
While the price of everything has gone up, the price of buses has gone down in West Yorkshire
Thanks to money secured through devolution, we were the first region in the country to cap bus fares at £2 last September, while reducing the cost of a day-ticket to £4.50. In a cost of living crisis, this saved passengers over £3 million in the first three months alone.
But it’s no good having a cheaper service if it doesn’t run on time. That’s why I’ve spent the past two years laying the groundwork for a greener, more reliable, better connected public transport system.
We’ve been refurbishing bus and rail stations across the region, while building a brand-new rail stop at the White Rose Centre in Leeds. These are real, material differences which will give people better access to transport links.
While private operators have too often proved to be poor custodians of our bus network, pulling routes and services in the name of profit, I’ve listened to your feedback to invest over £30 million to reconnect cut-off communities.
I’m determined to end the injustice of West Yorkshire remaining the largest city region in Western Europe without a joined-up, metro-style transport system with trams or light rail, and have secured almost £1bn for new transport infrastructure to do just that.
And after beginning the process of bringing buses back under public control on my very first week as Mayor, we’re preparing the case for a decision on bus reform by the end of my first term next May.
While ensuring our communities are better-connected, we’re also making them safer
Upon taking office, I also assumed the powers of the Police and Crime Commissioner – exercised by my brilliant and tireless Deputy Mayor, Alison Lowe OBE.
Since then, we’ve put vulnerable people and victims at the heart of what we do, with tackling violence against women and girls a personal responsibility for the both of us.
Despite continued underfunding from Government, we’ve worked with West Yorkshire Police to recruit over 500 new police officers and staff, serving in neighbourhood teams across our five districts.
Through our Mayor’s Safer Communities Fund, we’ve supported 173 community projects with over £1 million seized from criminals, supporting 59,000 people across West Yorkshire to stay safe and away from crime.
Because of devolution, we’ve been able to secure more than £200,000 for our Safety of Women at Night Fund, with a bus safety app and training for workers in the night-time economy, who are providing safe spaces through our ‘Ask for Angela’ scheme.
Our stalking advocacy service – one of the first of its kind in the country – has helped over 500 women and girls since its launch, with a dedicated police unit ensuring all stalking offences are responded to within 24 hours.
And we’ve channelled over £10 million to support victims’ services across West Yorkshire, while holding the Chief Constable to account against your priorities.
We’ve also put future generations at the heart of our plans through tough action on climate
Climate change is the biggest threat facing us, our children and our children’s children. In West Yorkshire, we’ve led from the front, with a Net Zero target of 2038 for our region’s economy – 12 years ahead of the Government’s national target.
To get there, we’re investing over £40 million through our Climate and Environment Action Plan.
Mayor Tracy Brabin with Clr Will Simpson, Kirklees Council’s Cabinet member for greener Kirklees
Working with the West Yorkshire Housing Partnership, we’re helping to build thousands of new, energy efficient homes in difficult economic circumstances.
And we’ll soon be introducing kickstarter grants of up to £50,000 to help get Net Zero projects off the ground in our communities.
And we’re levelling up through culture, enriching lives and boosting our regional economy
We’re building a creative crucible in West Yorkshire. With year-long festivals across each district – Leeds 2023, Kirklees Year of Music 2023, Wakefield’s Year of Culture 2024, Calderdale’s 2024 Vision, and Bradford as the UK’s City of Culture 2025 – it’s an incredibly exciting time for our region’s creative industries.
We’re making sure everyone – not just those from the ‘right’ backgrounds – has the chance to access these unique opportunities, with our incredibly successful, over-subscribed Mayor’s Screen Diversity Programme.
We’re nurturing children’s creativity in partnership with the National Literacy Trust, to help West Yorkshire find its very own Young Poet Laureate.
I’m pump-priming our creative industries with £11.5 million to attract new investment and boost our local economies.
And we led the successful, national campaign to keep Channel 4 in public hands, right here in West Yorkshire.
It has been a whirlwind two years for our region.
Our victory on the railways last week, with Government finally stripping the dismal TransPennine Express of its contract to run rail services in the North of England, has demonstrated the power of devolution when our region comes together to demand a voice.
This is an exciting time for West Yorkshire, and I want everyone to get on board and be part of that change.