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Debate denied as Clancy and Rogers get powers to approve metro mayor

Debate denied as Clancy and Rogers get powers to approve metro mayor

🕔15.Feb 2016

Birmingham city councillors will be denied an opportunity to vote on whether the West Midlands should be governed by an elected metro mayor under a plan drawn up by local authority officials.

It’s proposed that council leader John Clancy and chief executive Mark Rogers should be granted delegated powers to give Birmingham’s consent to creation of a mayor in May 2017, without the matter coming before a full council meeting for approval.

The idea is being challenged by both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat opposition parties, who say the proposal is undemocratic.

Details of the arrangements for setting up the West Midlands Combined Authority and implementing a devolution plan already agreed with the Government are contained in a report to the Council Business Management Committee by acting city solicitor Stuart Evans and policy executive Tony Smith.

They point out that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Greg Clark, will in any case approve the election of a metro mayor as part of the devolution deal. The implication appears to be there is no purpose in the matter coming before the full council.

The joint report by Evans and Smith reads:

The second stage of the agreed process will be taken forward in the summer and will involve three steps.

The Secretary of State submitting a further Order to create the post of elected mayor and the election in May 2017. The councils are only required to give technical consent to that order being made, not to approve it since this approval is part of the devolution agreement. It is proposed that this be delegated to the chief executive and leader for action.

A second Order by the Secretary of State devolving the agreed powers to the WMCA and mayor from central government (this requires no further approvals).

A third Order making amendments to the Scheme for the combined authority to include changes arising from the devolution agreement (this will be the subject of further consultation and approval by full council).

While the city council is powerless to stop Mr Clark putting in place the process to elect a mayor, a significant number of councillors from the three main parties are known to have personal reservations about the idea and would welcome a chance to debate the matter in public.

Birmingham and Coventry voted overwhelmingly against having elected city mayors in a referendum in 2012. Opponents of the mayoral system have complained that West Midlands voters have had no direct say over whether WMCA should be overseen by a metro mayor.

Opposition Conservative group leader Robert Alden will urge tomorrow’s CBM committee meeting to allow a debate at the March council meeting.

Cllr Alden said:

It is clear any hand over of powers must involve a debate and vote in the council chamber. To delegate powers to decide the future of the council to the leader who was recently backed by a number of candidates who want to be mayor would be wrong.

He is backed up by Liberal Democrat leader Jon Hunt, who said:

This should go to the full council.

There are two stages to the West Midlands devolution deal.

The first stage is the creation of a combined authority whose main members will be the seven metropolitan councils – Birmingham, Solihull, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Wolverhampton and Walsall. WMCA is expected to come into existence on June 1, not April as sometimes suggested, this year under the chairmanship of Solihull council leader Bob Sleigh, with Sandwell council leader Darren Cooper as vice-chair.

The second stage is to implement the devolution agreement which was signed by the leaders of the WMCA councils and the Chancellor George Osborne in November last year. The agreement, which gives WMCA and the metro mayor devolved powers to run transportation, economic development and skills, must be approved by each of the seven councils.

The CBM committee report notes:

Since November the councils have worked with government on an Implementation Plan for the first agreement and for the HS2 Growth Strategy. A process of clarification is also being completed and a due diligence review has been commissioned and will be completed before the Council meeting. Completion of these steps will give each council Leader and Chief Executive the assurance necessary to seek approval from their full council.

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