Sixth-formers at Sutton Coldfield’s oldest school put two local leaders on the spot over everything from devolution of powers to green issues in a fascinating question and answer session.
Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, joined Sutton Coldfield MP Andrew Mitchell for the event on Friday, January 24 at Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School.
The two leading Conservatives faced the entire 200-strong sixth form for the Question Time-style event in the school hall.
First, Mr Street – who as figurehead of the West Midlands Combined Authority brings together Birmingham, Coventry, Wolverhampton, Walsall, Dudley, Solihull and Sandwell – told pupils how investment is driving growth across the region.
Then, it was over to the pupils to put Mr Mitchell and Mr Street on the spot for an hour, with probing questions, expertly compered by the President of the School Council, 18-year-old Jaden Lo-Watson.
The grilling included Mr Mitchell being asked about the benefits of devolving further powers to Royal Sutton Coldfield Town Council.
He said: “I think that the best way in which we can be governed is by people making decisions as closely as possible to the people who are effected by those decisions.
“So, I want to see decisions on really local matters in Sutton made by local people. There are some decisions that need to be made by a strategic Birmingham authority – for example refuse collection, because you cannot get economies of scale by getting that done at local level – but many other things can be done locally.
“Running the Park, for example, is one thing that should be done at a local level. I’m absolutely convinced that over the next ten years, as the council grows in experience and stature, we will see more powers devolved to us locally.”
Mr Street was asked about how the nation could move towards the target of net zero emissions and a more sustainable future.
He said: “Leadership is the most important thing here. There is a real cross-party consensus that, while Britain may only be responsible for 1 or 2% of global pollution we have a genuine opportunity to show leadership as a nation and make a contribution to change.
“So, every time we persuade someone to use public transport instead of a car it makes a contribution, every time we build homes on brownfield sites instead of the greenbelt it makes a contribution, every time we plant a tree in our back gardens it makes a contribution.”
Other questions from pupils covered subjects as diverse as the future of the House of Lords, the performance of local trains, policing and how best to reunite the country post-Brexit.
After the event, Mr Street said: “It was a very enjoyable morning. It was great to be able to explain how things are changing for the better in the West Midlands to talented young people with so much hope and aspiration. After all, they are the people who are going to be the beneficiaries of the renaissance that is going on here.”
Mr Mitchell said: “It is always a pleasure to visit Bishop Vesey, which is one of Sutton Coldfield’s great schools. I’m always impressed by the quality of the questions from the gifted sixth-formers at the school.
“They are always interesting and on broad subjects, and offer an insight into what these talented young people really care about.”