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Osborne puts Birmingham elected mayor back on the agenda

Osborne puts Birmingham elected mayor back on the agenda

🕔04.Nov 2014

George Osborne has dropped the broadest hint yet that he believes Birmingham should be run by a directly elected mayor.

The Chancellor said he intended to speak to city council leader Sir Albert Bore and other civic leaders “about whether we can move to a mayoral model, perhaps just in the city.”

His comments in the House of Commons were in reply to a question from Edgbaston MP Gisela Stuart (Lab), who wanted to know whether Mr Osborne was likely to encourage other metropolitan councils to follow the “northern powerhouse” route of devolved powers and budgets being handed to the Greater Manchester combined authority.

Mrs Stuart said: “The Chancellor opened the door for other metropolitan areas to go down the route of the northern powerhouse. Has he given any consideration to what he regards to be an optimum size for those units?

“In the West Midlands, would that be a Greater Birmingham and Black Country metropolitan area or an entire West Midlands metropolitan area?”

Mr Osborne replied: “I do not think any one area is the same as any other area. There is a specific model for Greater Manchester, and of course the Greater Manchester councils had worked well together as a combined authority.

“Clearly Birmingham city council is much larger than Manchester city council alone, so I would like to have a conversation with the Hon. Lady, and with Albert Bore and other civic leaders in Birmingham, about whether we can move to a mayoral model, perhaps just in the city. That is a discussion to be had with local people, however.”

Mr Osborne’s remark looks set to further ignite an intense debate about the best system of governance for Birmingham and the West Midlands. It was not immediately clear how a Birmingham elected mayor might fit in with a Greater Birmingham metro mayor, or how their powers might be divided.

The Chancellor’s comments must also be seen in the light of a governance review of Birmingham city council being undertaken by Sir Bob Kerslake, the permanent secretary at DCLG.

Sir Bob intends to publish his recommendations at the end of the year. He is examining the structure and size of the council as well as the clarity of strategic leadership and direction.

Under the Greater Manchester northern powerhouse model, 10 councils will be run by an elected metro mayor. Until the Chancellor made his comments to MPs it had been thought that a West Midlands combined authority, probably covering Birmingham, Solihull and the Black Country, would also be placed under the leadership of an elected mayor.

Mr Osborne’s intervention came as highly sensitive talks about establishing a Greater Birmingham combined authority approach a climax.

Sir Albert Bore engaged in a round of ‘telephone diplomacy’ with leaders of the Black Country councils today in an effort to reach agreement about the shape of a combined authority. He expects an announcement in principle will be made before the end of the month, although the council leaders are yet to consider the volatile matter of the name of the combined authority.

Sir Albert said: “My intention is to build the same type of economic powerhouse that they have in Greater Manchester, and I think we will get there. But some of the discussions are delicate and sensitive.

“I think it is likely that we can come up with a set of principles fairly soon, and then work on the fine detail later.”

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