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Combined Authority Two to Three Years Away, says Black Country Leader

Combined Authority Two to Three Years Away, says Black Country Leader

🕔11.Mar 2014

In the week when “Greater Birmingham” is the talk of “Fleet Street” and even The Promenade de la Croisette in Cannes, a Black Country council leader has said a Combined Authority is just two to three years away. In his latest post for our week looking at the prospects for more devolution in the next Parliament, chief blogger Paul Dale hopes the GBSLEP spin machine doesn’t become too excited and awaits the thoughts of Professor Carl Chinn with some interest.

The four Black Country councils are about “two to three years away” from agreeing to join Birmingham in a formal agreement to run transport and economic development.

The timetable was revealed by Wolverhampton Council leader Roger Lawrence, who told the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee that he expected Birmingham and the Black Country to ask the Government for Combined Authority status by 2017.

A Combined Authority allows a group of local authorities to pool responsibility and receive delegated functions from central government in order to deliver transport and economic policy more effectively over a wider area.

The Greater Birmingham Combined Authority would be able to assume the role of an integrated transport authority and an economic prosperity board. For transport purposes, the authority would be able to borrow money and levy a council tax.

If the idea does go ahead it will be the first appearance of a regional strategic administrative body since the demise of the West Midlands County Council in 1986.

Cllr Lawrence told the committee that joint working between the Black Country councils of Wolverhampton, Sandwell, Walsall and Dudley and Birmingham had improved recently and plans are already in train to establish an Integrated Transport Authority.

The possibility of a Greater Birmingham Combined Authority casts doubt over the future of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP (GBSLEP). Some of GBSLEP’s constituent councils are shire district authorities who are prevented by law from joining metropolitan council Combined Authorities.

Stephen Hughes, the former Birmingham City Council chief executive, told the Commons committee the presence of South Staffordshire and North Worcestershire authorities in GBSLEP “would not fit into the Combined Authority model because of the way combined authorities are written into legislation.”

Mr Hughes admitted that the size of Birmingham made it more difficult to adapt closer working arrangements with other councils. “Birmingham is more than the size of the Black Country put together. In these circumstances it becomes more difficult to get a form of governance working.”

He told MPs: “It goes back to the West Midlands County Council. There was no love lost between the individual component parts of the county council.”

The Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 sets out three stages to establishing a Combined Authority.

Firstly a review must be undertaken to establish the likelihood that a combined authority would improve “the exercise of statutory functions relating to transport in the area, the effectiveness and efficiency of transport in the area, the exercise of statutory functions relating to economic development and regeneration in the area, and economic conditions in the area.”

On completion of the review the local authorities produce and publish a proposed scheme of the combined authority to be created, including the area that will be covered, the constitution and functions. This will include details of membership of the authority, remuneration, and how meetings will be chaired and recorded. Following a period of consultation and subject to the approval of the Secretary of State the Combined Authority is formally established.

Paul Dale returns this afternoon, if he can drag himself away from incoming shrapnel on twitter, with an extended analysis of what the parties and think tanks are saying about devolution ahead of next year’s General Election.

Cover Images: Wton Partnership / Room 151

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