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Government issues warning over ‘unwieldly’ WMCA 22-person board

Government issues warning over ‘unwieldly’ WMCA 22-person board

🕔15.Dec 2015

Leaders of the seven West Midlands metropolitan councils are insisting plans for a devolution package are still on track despite Government misgivings about the “unwieldly” nature of the proposed combined authority management board.

A senior civil servant at the Department for Communities and Local Government wrote to the shadow WMCA warning of concerns over the size of the management board, which could see as many as 22 council and local enterprise partnership representatives sitting around the table.

The Government has warned that late May or the beginning of June 2016 is now the earliest feasible date for the combined authority to begin work, and the timetable could slip to October.

Alison Lyon at the DCLG said some council chief executives were concerned that the board would be too large and unwieldly for swift decision making.

Ms Lyon also questioned arrangements put in place to give each of the seven councils an equal say on the most important decisions, with a veto over an elected metro mayor in some instances.

She said the shadow board had chosen too many issues that required a unanimous vote of constituent members to gain approval.

Twelve ‘red line’ issues requiring the approval of every board member have been proposed by WMCA. These include approval of land-use plans, the creation of arms-length companies, and any amendment to the combined authority constitution.

The Government fears a requirement for unanimity at board level – thought to be a device to keep the two Tory-controlled West Midlands districts on board with the five Labour-controlled councils – will slow down decision making.

In a letter to the shadow WMCA board, the DCLG wrote:

There are a large number of issues that require a unanimous vote. Experience in other areas suggests this can be seen as restrictive. You may wish to consider leaving voting arrangements to local agreement, set out within the constitution.

Arrangements for getting WMCA off the ground have been complicated by the need to negotiate a devolution deal with the Treasury at the same time as drawing up rules for the combined authority.

The two issues are separate, but the DCLG has suggested bringing together parliamentary orders for the creation of a combined authority, as well as an £8 billion devolution deal and metro mayor “with the full suite of powers/functions agreed”.

The DCLG warned: “In this case we would be looking at an October start date.”

Details of the letter from Ms Lyon emerged in the Municipal Journal at the beginning of December.

A spokeswoman for the combined authority said “nearly all” of the issues raised in the letter had been addressed.

She insisted the creation of a combined authority was on track and there was “no question” of a delay until October.

Her comments were reinforced by Birmingham city council. A senior official said it had always been the case that WMCA would not get off the ground until May 2016 at the earliest. There was no prospect of the date slipping until October, he insisted.

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