Birmingham backs WMCA, but Tory shires won’t get metro mayor vote
Birmingham city council has voted, almost unanimously, in favour of creating a West Midlands Combined Authority, but blocked a proposal to make adjoining shire districts full voting members.
The controlling Labour group stuck rigidly to the proposal before the Government that will see WMCA up and running on June 4 with seven constituent council members, the mainly Labour controlled metropolitan authorities of Birmingham, Solihull, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton.
Eight shire district councils in Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Staffordshire, some of them Tory controlled, will be non-constituent members and will have only eight board members against 14 for the metropolitan authorities.
The decision, expected to be backed by a majority of the Mets, means that WMCA will have an in-built Labour majority on the board which will take important decisions about the future of transportation, economic development and workplace skills.
The future role of the shire districts becomes more important next year when a West Midlands metro mayor will be elected to oversee an £8 billion devolution deal agreed with the Government.
Only people living in the seven metropolitan council areas will be able to vote for the mayor under current plans, making it difficult for the Conservatives to win an election since the metropolitan West Midlands is generally safe territory for Labour at local and national elections.
The electorate for the mayor could be extended to take in county areas if the shire districts were invited to become full constituent members, which is a possible course of action under the newly-passed Cities and Local Government Devolution Act.
An attempt by the Conservative opposition leader in Birmingham, Robert Alden, to commit the city council to asking the Government to give the shire districts full voting rights was rejected.
Cllr Alden said it was important for people “right across the region” to be given a mandate to vote for the mayor.
But Labour council leader John Clancy said he wasn’t convinced that all of the shire districts wanted to sign up for a metro mayor. He added that it wasn’t for the city council to tell the Government how best to deliver a metro mayor for the West Midlands, although he did not rule out the possibility of extending the electorate to include shire districts “as devolution evolves”.
Three of Birmingham’s 120 councillors voted against setting up the WMCA – John Lines, Bruce Lines and Vivienne Barton, the Tory councillors for Bartley Green ward.
Liberal Democrat group leader Jon Hunt called for tougher scrutiny arrangements for WMCA and the mayor. Cllr Hunt said there was great public scepticism about the need for a mayor and it was important that a spotlight should be shone on the combined authority and the mayor.
Sir Albert Bore, the former Birmingham city council leader, who played an important role in securing agreement among the metropolitan councils to form a combined authority, said the West Midlands devolution deal was the best in the country.
Sir Albert insisted the deal was “only the start” and that WMCA would return to the Government to negotiate further devolved powers later this year.
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