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‘No elected mayor for Greater Birmingham, unless you want one’, says Balls

‘No elected mayor for Greater Birmingham, unless you want one’, says Balls

🕔27.Nov 2014

A Labour Government would encourage Birmingham and the Black Country to work together as a combined authority but would never insist on a metro mayor for the region against local opposition, shadow chancellor Ed Balls has stated.

Mr Balls entered the devolution debate with a clear message that extra funding and powers for cities and regions should not be dependent upon councils agreeing to elect a mayor.

His stance differs from that of Chancellor George Osborne, and some of Mr Balls’ senior Labour colleagues, who believe that metro mayors are the way forward.

Mr Balls, speaking at the Birmingham Post Business Awards, said: “We know how important it is not just to get a close collaboration between business and politics, but across local government too.

“In this region, we need collaboration between Birmingham and the Black Country. Because you know when it comes to transport, planning or skills, business logic and local authority boundaries rarely overlap.

“That is why we have said our proposals for devolution are conditional on local authorities coming together to collaborate in combined authorities. But I do not think it is either necessary or wise for Westminster politicians to start dictating the particular political structures which will best make devolution work in each sub-region.

“London has an elected mayor and that is working for London. Greater Manchester, after years of working closely together across 10 local authorities, has decided to have an elected city-region Mayor and that is something I support if it is what Greater Manchester wants.

“But I do not believe it is right for the Chancellor to insist on elected mayors as a condition for devolving powers and resources – a step which many of those areas have rejected in the recent past.

“And I do not think it is right to short-change city and county regions in the North-East, West and South Yorkshire, the East Midlands or here in the West Midlands by offering up a lesser package of devolution if they do not believe an elected Mayor works for them.

“To deny the freedoms and resources the government has granted to Greater Manchester to the Midlands, the North and other parts of England because they will not agree to a Whitehall political blueprint would be unfair and damage growth and job creation.

“Those places which choose to have a combined authority but not to have an elected mayor should not be short-changed by this government. And the next Labour government will not short-change them.”

Mr Balls said a zero-based spending review carried out by Labour showed that the proportion of civil service jobs located in London has risen since 2010 despite Government promises to transfer departments from Whitehall to the regions.

He added: “I will ask every government department to draw up a plan for civil service relocation outside London. And a Labour Treasury will set an objective for savings over the course of the next decade.

“The last Labour government made progress on moving civil service jobs and government activities outside London. Indeed as Schools Secretary I oversaw the move of the QCA/Ofqual, to Coventry. But I’m clear that the next Labour government will need to go further. And we will.”

Speaking about Labour’s plans to devolve economic power and funding to city and county regions, Mr Balls said: “We have to earn our way to rising prosperity. But we will not succeed unless we use the talents of all and ensure that everyone can benefit from economic recovery and not just a few. And that means backing the cities and regions of our country which are the engines of growth and job creation.

“We have to devolve from Whitehall and back local businesses and local government to invest and grow and shape solutions to local challenges.

“One of the things this government did was to abolish the Regional Development Agencies – a destructive act which Business Secretary, Vince Cable, described as “Maoist and chaotic”.

“The LEPs which have been put in their place have too little power and too little resource to really make a difference. But our local economies cannot withstand another major upheaval of the local growth infrastructure. Evolution, not revolution, is the right way forward.

“So our approach is to strengthen partnerships between local authorities and independent Local Enterprise Partnerships – and the business and higher education leaders represented by LEPs.”

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