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Birmingham council leader demands ‘public debate’ over West Mids metro mayor

Birmingham council leader demands ‘public debate’ over West Mids metro mayor

🕔10.Jun 2015

The possibility of an elected metro mayor leading a new West Midlands combined authority has been raised by Birmingham city council leader Sir Albert Bore who called for a “wide public debate” about the controversial idea.

Sir Albert, giving his annual policy statement to the council, risked annoying partner authorities Solihull, Coventry, Lichfield and the Black Country councils who are all either opposed to, or highly sceptical about, a directly elected mayor.

Having admitted that the Chancellor, George Osborne, did not raise metro mayors during a recent meeting with West Midlands council leaders to talk about plans for the combined authority, Sir Albert proceeded to do just that.

At our meeting last week the Chancellor welcomed our focus on the economic outcomes we want to achieve.  In the meeting, he did not mention the Metro Mayor word once.  That is an issue we can return to later and on which we need to see a wide public debate across the region.

Birmingham’s Labour leadership has accepted the need to get a combined authority up and running as quickly as possible in order to take advantage of devolved powers on offer from the Government. But even though Mr Osborne was silent on the subject last week, the Chancellor has made it clear that only combined authorities with metro mayors can expect to be handed a full suite of devolved powers and budgets.

Sir Albert, who has in the past expressed a wish to be a candidate for elected mayor of Birmingham, qualified his personal support for a mayor with a warning.

We must take people with us and create a new authority that is popular because it delivers on the things that matter to people.

Birmingham has twice voted to reject an elected mayor.

In 2001 the council ran a consultative ballot with three choices – the existing cabinet and leader system, an elected mayor, or an elected mayor working with a council manager. Just over half of those taking part in the poll – 53 per cent – opted for the two types of elected mayor on offer, while 46 per cent backed the existing system. The Government declined to order Birmingham to hold a binding referendum.

In 2012 England’s 11 largest cities, including Birmingham, took part in mayoral referendums. Birmingham voted no by 58 per cent to 42 per cent. In Coventry the margin was much greater with 62 per cent of those taking part voting no and 38 per cent voting yes.

Sir Albert insisted the combined authority with strategic powers over transport, economic development and skills will be up and running by April 2016. The region’s councils were working “at great speed” to reach agreement with each other and the Government.

Since the autumn, work to design the combined authority has been taken forward behind the scenes.  We are on course to produce a draft scheme for consultation over the summer and to submit a final scheme to the Secretary of State in September, so that we can set up the new authority as planned next spring.

He described the combined authority as “Greater Birmingham”, something which may also concern the other council leaders who would much prefer to call the new body the West Midlands combined authority. He also referred to economic regeneration that he said would increasingly be “set within a city regional framework reflecting the functional economic area of which Birmingham is the core”.

Sir Albert confirmed that the city council would hold a debate on any proposal for a combined authority before it is submitted to the Government. He added:

The prize we are seeking here is not a governance structure. The combined authority will give us the platform from which to reach for the real prize – a devolution deal that will enable us to realise our ambitions for the West Midlands and make our full contribution to the nation’s economy.

So we have also been carrying out the economic analysis and developing our vision for the West Midlands Engine for Growth and, together, we will shortly be publishing our prospectus.

We will build our engine for growth one step at a time and focus on the projects and investment programmes that will make a difference to people’s lives.

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