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George Osborne: ‘My door is open to Greater Birmingham devolution deal’

George Osborne: ‘My door is open to Greater Birmingham devolution deal’

🕔24.Apr 2015

Birmingham and the West Midlands could get a devolution deal every bit as good as that awarded to Greater Manchester, George Osborne declared today.

The Chancellor said his door was open to any combination of local authorities in the region wishing to form a combined authority and take control of transport, economic development and the health and social care budget  – a deal potentially worth up to £1 billion of investment.

Speaking at a General Election meeting of Conservative activists Mr Osborne said he didn’t want Greater Manchester to be the only area in England benefiting from devolved budgets and powers.

He added that Birmingham and the West Midlands had “tremendous potential” and was one of the “most exciting places” where the Government could hand greater controls to local communities through councils.

He did not, though, specify whether a Conservative government would require Greater Birmingham to have an elected metro mayor as was the case with Greater Manchester. The four Black Country councils have stated that they are not prepared to countenance a mayor, and Birmingham council is likely to take the same stance.

Discussions on forming a Greater Birmingham combined authority have stalled over the reluctance of Tory controlled Solihull Council to form a partnership with Labour Birmingham and the Black Country.

Julian Knight, the Conservative General Election candidate for Solihull, who is odds on favourite to win the seat from the Liberal Democrats, has pledged to “fight tooth and nail” to prevent what he called a “Birmingham takeover” if the combined authority was approved.

Mr Osborne delivered his remarks a day after Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership chairman Andy Street called on a combined authority in the West Midlands to work with the area’s LEPs to seal a devolution deal.

Mr Street urged councils and businesses to seize the initiative now so the area could develop a combined authority to match up to Greater Manchester.

Speaking at the annual dinner of the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, Mr Street said: “Now is our time – we have to seize the moment and be ambitious.”

Mr Osborne was at the former MG Rover car plant in Longbridge, which closed ten years ago with the loss of 6,000 direct jobs and thousands more in the West Midlands components sector.

The former factory is now a 450-acre technology park, home for high-tech industries and Bourneville College. Where conveyor belts once ran a whole new town is springing up with the usual trappings – a Beefeater, Greggs, Costa Coffee and Sainsbury’s.

The 6,000 car manufacturing jobs have been replaced so far by 3,700 new jobs – a net loss of employment which is still keenly felt by the local community.

Longbridge is at the heart of the Northfield constituency, held since 1992 by Labour’s Richard Burden. The Conservatives have said the seat is their number one target in Birmingham and have selected local businesswoman Rachel Maclean.

Launching the Conservative manifesto for the West Midlands, Mr Osborne sought to portray Longbridge as a symbol of economic recovery which he claimed would be threatened under a Labour-led Government in hock to the SNP.

“There is huge potential in the West Midlands and there is a real buzz around Birmingham now. You have two of the three fastest growing local enterprise partnerships in the country with the Greater Birmingham and Black Country LEPs,” Mr Osborne added.

A significant portion of the Chancellor’s speech was devoted to highlighting the “threat” to growing economic prosperity in the West Midlands from a Labour government supported by the Scottish nationalists. He said:

If the SNP is in charge the West Midlands won’t get any transport projects and investment in industry won’t happen.

Promising more jobs and investment in the West Midlands if the Conservatives win the election, Mr Osborne set out the following pledges:

  • Grow the West Midlands economy and create 160,000 new jobs
  • Boost family incomes for 2.4 million people by cutting people’s income tax
  • Create 350,000 apprenticeships, 100,000 new good primary school places and offer working families 30 hours of free childcare a week
  • Support home ownership with Help to Buy and extend the Right to Buy their own home to all 245,000 housing association tenants
  • Make a record £5.2 billion transport investment in the Midlands, improve the M6 and M42, and upgrade the M5 and A5.

He also announced plans to extend the Birmingham city centre Enterprise to cover all of the Curzon Street regeneration masterplan area and extend the period over which business rates are retained.

Other promises include:

  • Create a new round of Enterprise Zones to help attract jobs and investment. The Chancellor hailed the success of existing Enterprise Zones in the West Midlands, like the automotive Zone north of Wolverhampton. He suggested further new Enterprise Zones could back the industrial strengths of the West Midlands, and that further zones could be created at Wolverhampton, Walsall or Dudley, and potentially elsewhere, to back further industries in the West Midlands.
  • Back the leading universities of the West Midlands, by creating a new generation of prestigious Regius Professorships. A Conservative government would support the creation of Regius Professorships to highlight excellence in universities in the Midlands, the north and the South West.  At present there are 25 Regius professors in south-eastern England, but only one in the Midlands, one in the north – and none in the South West.

Mr Osborne said:

Our plan for the working people of the West Midlands is ambitious, and has a clear timetable for delivery.  It means new investment and new jobs year on year.

The Conservative Party that can point to a track record of success in the West Midlands – and we’re the only party offering the West Midlands a clear plan and a real vision for the future.

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