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Sion Simon: “What I want when I am mayor”

Sion Simon: “What I want when I am mayor”

🕔04.Jan 2012

A front runner in the race to become Birmingham’s first directly elected mayor has set out a wish list of the executive powers he is demanding from Whitehall, with a permanent seat at powerful Government Cabinet committees a major priority.

Sion Simon, a former Labour MP for Erdington, believes central government must be placed under a statutory duty to consult with the mayor on policies where Birmingham has a strategic interest, such as the planned HS2 high speed rail link to London.

He says a mayor of Birmingham should sit on all relevant Cabinet and Ministerial committees when business involving the city
and the West Midlands is being discussed, and be in a position to influence policy making before decisions are taken.

The mayor must also be able to influence the contracts and investment decisions of government agencies working in the city, like Network Rail, the Home and Communities Agency and the Department of Work and Pension, according to Mr Simon.

His demands are contained in a formal response to a consultation paper issued by the Department of Communities and Local Government: ‘What can a mayor do for your city?’

The government is expected to give further details of mayoral powers before Birmingham holds a referendum on May 3 to decide whether the city will get a mayor. A mayoral election will be held in November, if the referendum produces a yes vote.

Other powers requested by Mr Simon would enable a mayor to close down and replace Birmingham’s ”failing”schools, as well as the ability to redirect financial resources to support 16 to 17-year-olds at ”high risk of disadvantage”.

Mr Simon insists that only with strong executive powers will a mayor be able to make a difference and deliver a step change to Birmingham’s fortunes. His policy initiatives were drawn up following an extensive consultation programme over a year that has seen the former MP take soundings from community groups, Labour members, business representatives and ordinary Brummies.

He is promising to put paid to Birmingham’s reputation for divisive yah-boo politics by building broad coalitions and has founded the Nation of Birmingham initiative, which sets out to encourage the business community to play a more significant role in developing city council policy.

Mr Simon said: “We cannot take responsibility for our future without a leader who is known, chosen and accountable to the city. This leader cannot bring about the necessary changes without the powers and funds to do so.

“Drawing upon eighteen months of speaking to thousands of Brummies about their hopes and fears for our city and how an elected mayor can help us rise to these challenges, my response makes the case for the extra powers and budgets that are necessary to help us transform our city.”

In order to provide coherent strategic direction for the city, he argues that an elected mayor should chair key partnership boards including the new Greater Birmingham & Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership; the Birmingham Employment and Skills Board; local strategic partnership, Be Birmingham; the Regional Integrated Transport Authority; the city’s Health and Wellbeing Board and Birmingham’s new Police and Crime Panel.

Mr Simon also calls for a mayor to have a range of new powers in order to lead the city’s economic renaissance. Specifically, he argues for greater powers over strategic planning; the ability to create extra Enterprise Zones; offer rate relief to support businesses in creating jobs in the city; be given powers to issue bonds to support investment in infrastructure; and see the devolution of UK Trade and Investment’s Birmingham budgets in order to “support Birmingham’s ambitions for international trade.”

He also calls for the transfer of key assets in the city formerly held by regional development agency Advantage West Midlands, and now held by the Home and Communities Agency, to be taken over by the mayor.

Mr Simon adds that in order to solve “Birmingham’s chronic unemployment problem”, control of Job Centre Plus budgets should be devolved to the mayor as well as the budgets of the Skills Funding Agency, Young Person’s Learning Agency and Apprenticeships Agency. These would “reinvigorate” Birmingham’s business-led Employment and Skills Board under the chairmanship of the mayor, he added.

The mayoral hopeful says that children leaving school without qualifications or relevant skills fail to fulfil their potential and “contribute to structural unemployment. He calls for the mayor to be given fast-track powers by the Education Secretary to change management structures and, where necessary, close down and replace failing schools.

In terms of making Birmingham a fairer city, Mr Simon argues for the creation of “listening panels” in each of Birmingham’s constituencies to scrutinise the work of the mayor and help set local priorities.

He said: “With just five month to go until the referendum, it is vital that we start the dialogue about how a mayor for Birmingham will transform our city.

“The government now needs to provide the extra resources and powers necessary for the mayor to realise Birmingham’s potential.

“The detailed extra powers I am calling for will help us shape our own destiny and equip Birmingham to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

Two other Labour hopefuls are in the running for the party’s mayoral nomination in Birmingham. They are former city council leader Sir Albert Bore and Gisela Stuart, the MP for Edgbaston. No Conservative or Liberal Democrat contenders have emerged as yet.

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