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History in the making as Birmingham and Black Country sign cooperation deal

History in the making as Birmingham and Black Country sign cooperation deal

🕔07.Nov 2014

An historic agreement to create a West Midlands Combined Authority has been reached in a move that could see seven councils working together to take advantage of devolved powers and budgets from central government.

The WMCA will be formed around Birmingham and the Black Country councils of Sandwell, Dudley, Wolverhampton and Walsall. Solihull and Coventry councils could come on board too.

Sources indicated that talks are ongoing with the district councils represented by the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership – Lichfield, Bromsgrove, East Staffordshire, Redditch and Wyre Forest in an attempt to spread the Combined Authority coverage even further.

Birmingham and the Black Country council leaders signed a formal agreement today committing their authorities to establish a Combined Authority. They extended “a warm welcome” to Coventry and Solihull to join them.

The West Midlands Combined Authority will represent about 3.4 million people and will be one of the largest in the country, rivalling Greater Manchester, where the Government this week approved a £1 billion transfer of powers and budgets for transportation and economic development.

Today’s announcement brings to an end two years of highly sensitive talks between Birmingham city council leader Sir Albert Bore and the Black Country council leaders. A name for the combined authority is yet to be approved, but it is unlikely to be ‘Greater Birmingham’.

The councils hope to strike a deal with the Government by March, setting out the precise powers to be taken over which are likely to include transportation, economic development, skills, policing, social care and culture.

If the West Midlands follows the Greater Manchester pattern, investment of at least £1 billion a year is likely to flow from Westminster to be spent as the councils wish.

The West Midlands is not expected to follow Greater Manchester along the path to a metro mayor. It is more likely that the combined authority will be run by a cabinet of the council leaders.

Discussions will take place about the future of the West Midlands Local Enterprise Partnerships and there is a possibility that amalgamation may take place.

Sir Albert Bore, leader of Birmingham City Council, said: “I am pleased that we have come together to reach this agreement which will ensure the region makes a full contribution both to the UK’s economic recovery and the re-balancing of the national economy. A combined authority stretching from Wolverhampton to Coventry and beyond, and from East Staffordshire to Redditch would form the core of a Midlands powerhouse to compete with city regions around the world.”

Solihull Council leader Bob Sleigh appeared to be less enthusiastic: “We are open to discussions around better regional cooperation as we recognise in a global economy the region must punch its weight. However, any new arrangements must benefit both the people I serve in Solihull as well as the regional partners.”

 

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