The West Midlands can become the lynchpin for the national economic recovery say council leaders who are today (FRI) announcing plans to form a Combined Authority.
Council leaders from the four Black Country councils and Birmingham have today (FRI) made an agreement in principle to work as a Combined Authority in a move which will attract hundreds of millions of pounds of investment to create jobs and improve transport links.
And they have invited Solihull and Coventry, as well as a number of the neighbouring councils, to join negotiations with the aim of building a broad and deep coalition for prosperity for the West Midlands.
The Government and the opposition in Westminster have made it clear that they are prepared to pass significant funding and powers to cities and regions that come together to form a Combined Authority. Today’s announcement means that the West Midlands will be able to take advantage of that opportunity along with other cities.
The key purpose of the Combined Authority which could represent over 3.4million people, will be to drive growth, create jobs and improve local skills. Improving regional transport infrastructure and boosting economic investment and development will be key priorities.
Council leaders say the move will ensure the region makes a full contribution both to the UK’s economic recovery and the re-balancing of the national economy. They have also emphasised the plans will create a better deal for local people and will not impact on the day to day delivery of council services by the independent local authorities.
Councillor David Sparks, leader of Dudley Council, said:
“By working together in this way, the West Midlands can become a lynchpin for national economic recovery. We need a combined authority in the West Midlands to compete with other areas which have already gone down this route. There is evidence from around the country, such as in Greater Manchester, that where councils work in a more coordinated way they secure significantly greater proportions of national government investment for their area.”
Councillor Darren Cooper, leader of Sandwell Council, said:
“It would give us major decision-making powers at a local level and more influence over how money is spent. The four Black Country councils are already working very closely together and have already secured £12million for high-speed broadband, attracted Jaguar Land Rover to the region and benefited from £7.6million in Growing Priority Sectors funding which has safeguarded hundreds of jobs. The Combined Authority will be an extension of this kind of work.”
Councillor Sir Albert Bore, leader of Birmingham City Council, said:
“I am pleased that we have come together to reach this agreement which will ensure the region makes a full contribution both to the UK’s economic recovery and the re-balancing of the national economy. A Combined Authority stretching from Wolverhampton to Coventry and beyond, and from East Staffordshire to Redditch would form the core of a Midlands powerhouse to compete with city regions around the world.”
Councillor Roger Lawrence, leader of Wolverhampton City Council, said:
“The Combined Authority will build upon existing, strong foundations. Councils across the region already collaborate effectively on transport through the Integrated Transport Authority (ITA) and through partnership with our strong performing Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPS). A new, Combined Authority will make us more agile, dynamic and able to seize on development and investment opportunities which bring skills, jobs, growth and prosperity to our region. It would give us major decision-making powers at a local level and more influence over how money is spent. Individual areas and local authorities will not lose their local identity in this arrangement which is designed to draw down power from Whitehall and not up from town halls. We’re also committed to doing everything we can to encourage Coventry and Solihull to bring their considerable economic strength to a Combined Authority.”
Councillor Sean Coughlan, leader of Walsall Council said:
“The West Midlands Combined Authority will help us ensure that we develop the skills and job opportunities for local people. This is a priority for every council. In Walsall we are looking forward to building an agreement so that this exciting opportunity can attract new funding to enable us to develop the towns and communities of Walsall, the Black Country and the wider West Midlands.”
Councillor Bob Sleigh, leader of Solihull Council, said:
“We are open to discussions around better regional cooperation as we recognise in a global economy the region must punch its weight. However, any new arrangements must benefit both the people I serve in Solihull as well as the regional partners.”
West Midlands’ council leaders will now look to finalise the finer details of their arrangement, including an official name for the Combined Authority. The priority of initial discussions will be to establish the role and remit of the Combined Authority and council bosses will also look at the most suitable leadership model for the West Midlands.
Meetings are continuing to finalise the specific details of the arrangement and the councils will make further announcements in the coming weeks.