Simon now says mayor’s powers ‘restrictive and won’t work’
Powers proposed for the West Midlands mayor are too restrictive and “won’t work”, the Labour party candidate for the top job has warned.
Siôn Simon said issues surrounding the role of the directly elected mayor needed to be addressed now “rather than waste time doing it next year when we should be getting on with the real work on behalf of our citizens”.
Mr Simon denies that his declaration beings him into conflict with leaders of the seven West Midlands metropolitan councils and surrounding shire districts who have set out a scheme that would result in the mayor having minimal executive powers over transport, economic development and skills when elected next May.
A period of public consultation by the West Midlands Combined Authority on the proposed mayoral scheme has just been completed and would, if approved by the Government, give the council leaders a veto on most of the mayor’s policies and the budget.
At the time, he said:
I agree that at day one it is a fairly minimalist prospectus. It is at the bottom end of what you might expect a mayor’s powers to be. But I am OK with that.
We are not going to succeed by having mayor who comes in as the big I am with an attitude that I have got the powers and everyone has to do as I say. The way to succeed is to build a consensus.
I don’t want to be in a position where I have powers to ignore the wishes of the seven metropolitan council leaders. I want to be in a position where the seven leaders and I agree because we want the same things for the region.
What we have to do is to make it work. The legislation is designed to encourage regional mayors to bid for more powers. This is the point at which we start, but it is a constantly evolving dynamic process.
Mr Simon has now insisted his remarks in July had been misinterpreted and conflated with two different issues – powers for the mayor and the £8 billion West Midlands devolution deal signed by the seven council leaders and the Government last year.
He told Chamberlain Files:
I said I was relaxed and I am. I said it was all about consensus and collaboration and it is. I said I wouldn’t want the mayor to have draconian powers to ride roughshod over the leaders, which I don’t.
But I certainly did not say that the Mayoral Scheme as originally drafted would facilitate the kind of balanced collaborative approach which we need. It’s too restrictive of the mayor, such that it won’t work.
So I’m just saying let’s sort it now, before the order’s laid before Parliament, rather than waste time doing it next year when we should be getting on with the real work on behalf of our citizens.
Last week Mr Simon stepped up his campaign to have the mayor’s powers toughened.
He told the Birmingham Post the mayoral scheme as currently drafted would not provide a mayor with the powers to be “the true champion for the West Midlands, powers to advance the interests of our businesses and our communities”.
He described the proposed mayoral scheme as “an administrative attempt to weaken the mayor and minimise the possibilities for progress”.
Although the scheme was approved for consultation by WMCA, Mr Simon insisted the proposals were not backed by council leaders.
He added that scheme “doesn’t reflect the views of council leaders, to whom I speak all the time and I know share my vision of a strong mayor working side by side with council leaders in the best interests of the West Midlands”.
Mr Simon, a former Birmingham MP and currently an MEP for the West Midlands, is regarded by many as the favourite to win the mayoral election, although he may face a tough battle if the Conservative party selects John Lewis chief executive and Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP chair Andy Street as its candidate.
With Labour nationally plummeting in opinion polls, Tory leaders believe the party can win in the West Midlands where a swing of about five per cent against Labour would be required based on the 2015 General Election results.
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