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More questions than answers over West Mids combined authority commissions

More questions than answers over West Mids combined authority commissions

🕔13.Jul 2015

A prospectus describing how a West Midlands combined authority will work sets out radical plans for three independent commissions to address serious issues around housing, productivity and mental health.

These commissions, it is said, will “start work immediately” and bring forward reports later this year.

As if to underline the high profile, the prospectus – or Statement of Intent as it was described – says support from the Government will be sought to deliver the commissions through the appointment of a chair and with a commitment by Whitehall departments to work closely with the three bodies.

But attempts by Chamberlain Files to find out the appointment, membership of, and arrangements for chairing the commissions have run into a brick wall. There are, as far as we can tell, no detailed Terms of  Reference published, even in draft form for consultation.

Dudley Council’s head of communications, which is acting as press office for the combined authority, was unable to confirm whether any commissioners have been appointed, are about to be appointed or to expand on the method for finding, selecting and appointing commissioners.

All the officer could say was that “discussions are on-going” and an announcement is imminent.

Uncertainty over the commissions comes in the wake of drama running up to publication of the combined authority prospectus a week ago with reports of last minute re-writing and disagreement among leaders of the seven West Midlands councils and the three LEPs about the content of the document.

Taken at face value the prospectus certainly gives an impression of the “slick and fast” approach promised by the council leaders.

A section outlining the work of the commissions reads:

Increasing the rate of growth of the West Midlands and addressing the national competitiveness and productivity challenge is a high priority. We need to support its economy, its businesses, and the people of the region to improve their skills and health as well as to make the best of the physical and other assets we have.

We take it as our number one challenge that we must grow our economy beyond the current projections. We must make our already world-class business base stronger and better still.

We also know that we will need to look hard at some of the bigger and underlying issues we face to achieve this: to improve our competitiveness and productivity; to attract greater business investment; to develop our people’s skills; to bring more land and buildings back into productive use; and to look at how, through improving mental health, we can make progress in some of the most intractable problems of public service reform.

We therefore propose to establish three major new independent Commissions to help us shape the agenda of the West Midlands Combined Authority. Support from the Government will be sought to deliver these Commissions, both through the appointment of a Chair, and with a commitment that Government Departments and Agencies will work with each Commission to deliver its objectives.

Each of these three independent Commissions will begin work immediately and independently to bring forward initial ideas for consideration later this year to inform the further development of our proposals for the West Midlands Combined Authority.

One of the commissions will examine the West Midlands’ productivity gap of some £16 billion which translates to output of £20,137 per head, some £4,000 lower than the national average.

A land commission will look at the housing shortage and find ways to bring suitable sites forward for development with a remit to concentrate on brining brownfield land back into use.

A mental health commission will assess the scale of problems in the West Midlands and their cost and impact across the whole system, examine best practice elsewhere nationally and internationally in both health and other services.

The Chancellor referenced the Statement in his budget last week and Sajid Javid, who has taken on the role of championing the ‘Midlands Engine’ in government, was pictured with Birmingham Council leader Sir Albert Bore on Friday along with the document.

Pic: @SmithTonyD. Sajid Javid and Sir Albert Bore with WMCA Statement of Intent

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