'Do not underestimate my experience as a councillor' in West Yorkshire mayoral race, says Tory pick

The Conservative candidate to be West Yorkshire mayor has urged voters not to dismiss his experience as a councillor as not high profile enough to take on the powerful job, as he said he would be fighting for every vote on May 6.

Conservative candidate for West Yorkshire mayor Matt Robinson. Photo: Conservative Party

Matt Robinson, a Leeds councillor of 11 years, was selected by Tory members to be their pick for the May race on Saturday.

“I'm really humbled to have been selected and really excited for the campaign,” he said.

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The Conservatives have already faced criticism from some quarters of not taking the race as seriously as other areas by not putting up a bigger name and waiting until three months after Labour had announced their pick to choose a candidate.

But Mr Robinson said: “You’re not going to hear me doing down the council’s role.”

He said: “If we don't value local government and champion it in the North, you'll never improve it.

“[With] 11 years of local government experience, I've been used to holding administrations to account, I've been used to holding to account for millions of pounds worth of budgets.”

He added: “So, I want to bring all that experience to the table and I've also had dealings with Westminster, as well and I can remember when Linton bridge collapsed, I worked with our local MP to lobby the government, and to secure millions of pounds of funding that came to the council to improve that bridge, to rebuild, a £5m bridge building project.

“So, I'm used to championing these million pound projects and getting buy in from people. Leeds is the second biggest authority in the country and we are talking about dealing with millions of pounds of funding, of holding to account projects of tens of millions of pounds, the road being built around the edge of my ward is a £120m pound project.”

Mr Robinson said his pitch to members had centred around the recovery from coronavirus.

He said: “What we need to make sure is that we have somebody who has a vision for where they want to take West Yorkshire, somebody who can combine local government experience with a plan of working with Westminster, not simply axe grinding with Westminster, but actually seeking to work with them, and bringing their own agenda forward for the region.”

He said the conversation was very different to what it would have been had this election been held last year, due to the impact of Covid. But he said: “I think that having a devolution deal in place will make us even more resilient in the future if there are ever incidents like this, emergency scenarios, where we can bring local government together under one individual and it has to be about collaboration with central government.”

And he added that while he would not be afraid to stand up to the Government for West Yorkshire, he felt there was a balance to be struck.

“There are some mayors who have sought to pursue their agenda for their region, and have frank and honest conversations with government, but also to work with them too, there's others that have taken a different approach,” he said.

He also felt it was key to ensure the race was not Leeds-centric, and said: “It's about making sure we really represent and understand residents, communities, the grassroots across the region, so it cannot be Leeds-run, it cannot be Leeds-centric, it has to be West Yorkshire.”

And despite betting odds putting Labour rival Tracy Brabin out in front, Mr Robinson said: “The only poll that is going to matter is going to be polling day, and I intend to fight for every single vote across West Yorkshire.”