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Bore to Osborne: West Mids must ‘see colour of your money’ to seal metro mayor deal

Bore to Osborne: West Mids must ‘see colour of your money’ to seal metro mayor deal

🕔09.Sep 2015

The Government must “show us the colour of your money” in return for the West Midlands agreeing to have a metro mayor, the Labour leader of Birmingham city council has said.

Sir Albert Bore said discussions with ministers over the next few weeks would determine whether the region’s new combined authority could get the best possible deal for devolved powers around economic development and transportation, and that might depend on having a mayor.

The answer to the mayoral question will be known one way or the other by October when the Government and the seven West Midlands metropolitan authorities will reveal the precise details of a devolution package that could be worth more than £8 billion.

It’s thought highly likely that George Osborne, the Chancellor, will confirm a West Midlands deal at the Conservative party conference in Manchester, which runs from October 4 to 7.

Sir Albert, who faced a three hour grilling by a scrutiny committee, said:

Will we have a metro mayor? Discussions will take place in the weeks to come.

The seven Met leaders have said to the Government we haven’t ruled it in and we haven’t ruled it out.

The issue sits on the table. What’s the colour of your money?

Mr Osborne has made it clear that maximum devolution will be dependent on a combined authority agreeing to have an elected metro mayor, as in the case of Greater Manchester.

Sir Albert pointed out that a fast-growing dash towards devolution is taking place with a number of city regions negotiating deals dependent on having a metro mayor. He said council leaders would have to “face the wrath of the people of the West Midlands” if they failed to negotiate the best possible devolution deal.

It’s the only game in town. The West Midlands needs to be part of a combined authority devolution deal or it will lose out substantially to other regions.

Addressing the opponents of a metro mayor, who include a cross-party selection of Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors, Sir Albert said:

The metro mayor is not about the election of a mayor who is going to be responsible for the governance of Birmingham. A metro mayor would be responsible for delivering the economic development and transportation agenda.

The precise political make-up of a West Midlands combined authority remains uncertain.

Five of the seven metropolitan councils are Labour controlled. Two – Solihull and Walsall – are Conservative controlled. Diplomatically, the Labour leaders have agreed that Bob Sleigh, the Tory leader of Solihull council, should be WMCA’s first chair. He, too, has hinted at the need to have a metro mayor.

However, the shadow authority extends beyond the metropolitan authority boundaries and includes areas covered by three local enterprise partnerships – Greater Birmingham and Solihull, Coventry and Warwickshire and the Black Country.

Up to 12 district councils may join the combined authority and a number are Conservative controlled. Under current legislation the districts can only be non-constituent members and do not qualify for a vote on the combined authority board.

Sir Albert was careful to stress that the West Midlands combined authority is being formed under current legislation as enshrined in the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. District councils can be given limited voting rights on a combined authority but constituent members – the seven Mets in the West Midlands case – get special protection and can never be out-voted, Sir Albert claimed.

However, under the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill passing through Parliament at the moment district councils can become fully-blown constituent members with voting rights.

This raises the likelihood that the playing field will change almost as soon as the West Midlands combined authority is formed next year. District council members in Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire could become constituent members and would be entitled to a vote.

The question of who gets to vote is critical if the West Midlands is to have a metro mayor.

Only residents of constituent councils qualify for a vote, limiting the constituency at the moment to Birmingham, Solihull, Coventry, Sandwell, Wolverhampton, Dudley and Walsall. The likelihood is that in most years a Labour mayor would be elected.

However, if the shire districts become full constituent members, the result of a mayoral vote would be far harder to call and the Conservatives would be in with a chance of victory.

Sir Albert said he was keen to bring all 12 districts into the combined authority and he was “exceedingly hopeful” that most would agree to join.

Conservative-controlled Warwickshire county council voted last week not to join a West Midlands combined authority, claiming that the body would be dominated by the urban areas. But several of the Warwickshire district councils may join including North Warwickshire, home to the Hams Hall BMW engine plant.

Birmingham Labour councillor Tristram Chatfield said he was concerned that some of the districts would have a “fundamentally different agenda” to the urban metropolitan areas.

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