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Heseltine makes it clear: ‘No mayor means no devolution’

Heseltine makes it clear: ‘No mayor means no devolution’

🕔19.Jun 2015

West Midlands council leaders have been given the clearest sign yet that the region cannot expect maximum devolution from Whitehall without an elected mayor.

The blunt message was delivered by Michael Heseltine, who is working closely with Chancellor George Osborne to persuade city regions across England to join together in combined authorities.

Lord Heseltine, addressing the annual meeting of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP, said he understood the historic rivalries between neighbouring councils and the political personalities involved and stressed that the Government could not and would not force the West Midlands to have a metro mayor.

But he left the meeting in no doubt that the region cannot expect to get a devolution deal anywhere near the scale of that given to Greater Manchester without a mayor at the helm.

The leaders of Birmingham, the Black Country councils, Solihull, Coventry and Lichfield, some of whom were present to hear Lord Heseltine, convened a meeting afterwards to discuss progress on the combined authority proposal.

As well as coming under intense pressure to bite the bullet and opt for a mayor the council leaders are being urged to make sure the name Birmingham appears in the title of the new body.

It’s believed a majority of the leaders favour the ‘West Midlands’ combined authority, but critics say the name would be meaningless to international investors.

GBSLEP chair Andy Street became the latest business leader to state that it would be a mistake to leave out Birmingham from the name. “You wouldn’t call the Munich city region Bavaria,” he said.

Claiming that the tide of devolution was now unstoppable, Lord Heseltine stressed that Greater Manchester had proved the importance of councils working together and was now reaping the rewards. The challenge to Birmingham was: “Can you catch up with them?”

Lord Hesletine offered two alternatives. Under the first, Birmingham and the West Midlands could proceed in the manner of a slow stopping train, “making a bit of progress here and there, taking coffee and idling away in some remote junction”.

Under the second option, “you could say we are Birmingham, the powerhouse of England, and we are not going to be left behind. The choice is entirely yours.”

Lord Heseltine said it was right that the Government, having been prepared to take a risk by handing bigger budgets and more extensive powers to combined authorities, should insist on a mayor to take direct responsibility and to be accountable to voters.

All over the world in societies like ours there is a directly elected leader. A mayor. But this is for many people, particularly councils and local leaders, a big stumbling block. And that is a very human thing.

We have to understand the anxieties of central government. The Chancellor won’t do a deal that doesn’t involve a directly elected mayor. Putting the decision off for a week, or a month, or a year, won’t change anything.

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