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Government smooths the path for creation of Greater Birmingham

Government smooths the path for creation of Greater Birmingham

🕔06.May 2014

The Government is planning to make it easier for councils to work together, increasing the chances of a Greater Birmingham Authority being established to run transport and economic development.

Birmingham and the other West Midlands metropolitan authorities would be able to link up with Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire county councils to form strategic bodies under proposals put forward by the Department of Communities and Local Government.

At the moment, Combined Authorities like Greater Manchester can only include metropolitan councils. Counties and district councils are banned from joining.

The rule that only neighbouring councils can form a Combined Authority could also be scrapped.

The changes, if approved, could open the way for the creation of a Greater Birmingham Combined Authority taking in Birmingham, Solihull, the Black Country councils and councils in Staffordshire and Worcestershire that are part of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP.

The DCLG proposals are out for consultation, with local authorities and other interested bodies being asked for their views.

Greater Manchester is the only Combined Authority at the moment. But four more are being created in the North-east, Greater Merseyside, South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire.

Ministers have made it clear they see Combined Authorities as a key element of a localism strategy, transferring budgets and powers to local councils. In the West Midlands, however, attempts to form a Combined Authority have failed in the past, often due to disagreement between the Black Country and Birmingham.

Birmingham’s sheer size and dominance has been seen as a problem by the smaller councils. However, a charm offensive by Birmingham council leader Sir Albert Bore appears to be paying dividends. Earlier this year Wolverhampton City Council leader Roger Lawrence said he envisaged a Greater Birmingham Combined Authority being established within two or three years.

Council leaders are stressing that each local authority would retain its individual identity and that a Combined Authority would not involve a merger or the re-introduction of the former West Midlands County Council.

It would, though, enable cross-border strategic decision making to take place in the all-important areas of transportation and economic development, and attract devolved budgets and powers from Whitehall.

Last month, Ed Miliband made it clear that a Labour government would undertake a major devolution of powers and budgets to local authorities – but only in areas where combined authorities were in existence.

He promised to transfer control of at least £20 billion spent by Whitehall to councils if he wins the General Election. The figure is double the £10 billion of devolved spend over the course of a parliament already approved by Chancellor George Osborne.

A new study by the Centre for Cities thinktank urges the Government to award London Transport-style powers to England’s city regions.

The report Delivering Change: Making transport work for cities provides a range of practical lessons for UK cities and Whitehall, drawn from transport systems in the UK and abroad.

It highlights the role that Transport for London has played in supporting growth in the Capital, by offering an expansive, regulated and user-friendly network that residents can use flexibly through the use of an ‘Oyster card’.

The impact of this network has been dramatic – bus passenger journeys alone have increased by 80 per cent between 2000 and 2012 in the capital, despite bus usage across the rest of the country declining.

In order to bring these types of benefits to city-regions across the UK, the report recommends that the Government:

• Gives city-regions like Greater Manchester and the Leeds City Region ‘London-style’ powers over their transport network, so as to allow for the better integration and coordination of services, including Oyster card-style ticketing;

• Supports all cities to use their existing revenue raising powers—such as fees, parking regulations and procurement rules—to ensure that local transport services meet local needs;

• Provides minimum five-year transport funding settlements for all cities to provide certainty for effective planning and capital investment in their transport services.

Alexandra Jones, Centre for Cities chief executive, said: “To help our cities grow, Government should give city regions more power to integrate and coordinate buses, trains and traffic, and they should give longer-term funding commitments so city regions can invest and plan for a better transport system – road, rail and buses – over the long-term.”

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