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Confidence growing for a Combined Authority for Christmas

Confidence growing for a Combined Authority for Christmas

🕔23.Oct 2014

We had a great Think Birmingham event on Monday night in the City’s Council House with a very august panel drawn from the upper echelons of the West Midlands’ political and business community, writes Andrew Carter of the Centre for Cities think tank. 

The main attraction of the evening was the Leader of Birmingham City Council Sir Albert Bore, ably supported by the Chair of the LGA and Leader of Dudley Council David Sparks. They were joined by Beverley Neilsen from Birmingham City University, Waheed Saleem who chairs the historical institution The Lunar Society (for a great history of the Lunar Society, this book is brilliant), and me. The event was gamefully and expertly chaired by Kevin Johnson from RJF Public Affairs and all things political in Birmingham.

The discussion was very rich in detail and nuance and provided lots of food for thought. The video and podcast of the proceedings will be available shortly on the Think Cities site shortly. For now two main themes struck me that are worth a mention.

Firstly, the evening addressed head-on the widely held opinion within the West Midlands and in national government that Birmingham and its neighbouring authorities can never agree on anything and any hope of them forming a combined authority is a pipe dream. The public statements by Sir Albert and David on Monday night categorically proved this isn’t the case. Both were unreservedly in favour of establishing a combined authority which included at least Birmingham and the four Black Country authorities. Both spoke passionately about wanting Solihull to be part of the combined authority, and candidly about the political obstacles that need to be overcome to make this happen. Both were optimistic about an agreement being reached and confident this could be done before Christmas. I wouldn’t go as far to stay there was elation in the room based on these remarks, but there was a palpable feeling that real progress is being made which bodes well for this part of the country as it strives to ensure it doesn’t get ignored by national government in the rush to ‘Power the North’.

Secondly, there was a recognition that if we want to win the argument for cities and for devolution we need to win the hearts as well the minds of national politicians. As Hume reminds us: ‘reason, is and ought only to be, the slave of the passions’. This means showing politicians and the public that if they want better jobs that offer career progression, if they want jobs that offer higher wages and greater levels of security, if they want more houses for their families, if they want to limit their impact on climate change by reducing our carbon emissions, if they want more innovation and entrepreneurialism in their businesses, and if they want a transport system that enables them to get from one place to another quickly, easily and cheaply, then it’s only in cities that these aspirations can be achieved.

This means giving cities greater prominence in national debates about these issues and it also means devolving powers and resources to cities so they can take the decisions that reflect their population’s aspirations and interests.

There is a groundswell of opinion across the political spectrum urging more devolution to cities, out in force yesterday following the publication of the City Growth Commission’s final report. The job in the next nine months before the election is to bring these voices together and keep the pressure up. We’re touring the major cities in the UK making the case for stronger cities, connecting with local and national campaigns in the process. We’ve already been to Sheffield to gather together the demands of business leaders for greater devolution, and we took part in Newcastle’s State of the City event where the thirst for more powers was the dominant theme of the conference. At the beginning of November we’ll be heading to Nottingham to talk about how devolution can benefit the city with its leader Cllr Jon Collins. Later that month we’ll be in Leeds with Cllr Keith Wakefield and Ed Balls MP looking at the commitments made thus far on devolution and how we can go further, and also in Glasgow for an event with the Chamber of Commerce there. We’ll be reporting back from these and other events coming up – follow us @ThinkCitiesUK to keep up to date with the latest on the campaign.

Andrew Carter is Deputy Chief Executive of Centre for Cities, the leading think tank for independent research and policy analysis on UK city economies. The Centre is behind the Think Cities campaigns across the country. This is a version of a post first published on the Think Cities website

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