So near yet so far for WMCA as MPs fail to give statutory approval
Council leaders across the West Midlands face an anxious wait to discover whether MPs will finally approve plans to set up a combined authority after the House of Commons failed to give unanimous backing to the scheme.
Embarrassingly, the West Midlands Combined Authority was forced to postpone its inaugural meeting today when approval of a parliamentary order setting up WMCA was surprisingly delayed.
The statutory order could not be approved because Warley Labour MP John Spellar raised an objection. He argued that creation of the combined authority and election of a West Midlands metro mayor in 2017 was being forced through without proper consideration.
MPs will reconvene on June 15 immediately after Prime Minister’s Questions to consider the WMCA statutory order. There are fears discussions over the combined authority may have to revert to a Commons committee, something that could delay approval even further.
Some MPs are reportedly concerned about a lack of consultation with the council leaders over plans for WMCA. Others, particularly Labour MPs representing the urban metropolitan areas, have fears over the possibility that WMCA will continue to expand and that non-constituent Tory-controlled district and county councils will become constituent members with full voting rights.
WMCA did manage to hold an AGM, but it was an annual meeting of the shadow board consisting of leaders from the seven metropolitan councils – Birmingham, Solihull, Coventry, Wolverhampton, Walsall, Dudley and Sandwell – as well as non-constituent representatives from surrounding district councils, and representatives from Greater Birmingham and Solihull, Coventry and Warwickshire and the Black Country local enterprise partnerships.
The combined authority, when finally up and running, will have powers to oversee transportation, economic development and the skills agenda across the West Midlands. The mayor, to be elected next May, will chair a cabinet of council leaders.
Attempts to put forward a united face were rocked by West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson who objected to attempts by the council leaders to scale back the powers of the metro mayor.
Mr Jamieson said he was unable at the moment to recommend to the Home Secretary any transfer of the police commissioner’s responsibilities to the mayor.
Mr Jamieson, a former Labour MP, warned the councils should not take it for granted that MPs would approve the formation of WMCA on June 15. He said the council leaders could face “a perilous journey” if they failed to win the confidence of MPs.
He claimed there was “no way” the Government would give the council leaders sweeping powers to veto the mayor’s decisions – something that WMCA wants to happen.
Cllr Bob Sleigh, the Tory leader of Solihull council and chair of the shadow WMCA, said it was unfortunate there had been “a slight delay” in gaining statutory approval for the combined authority, but the councils had to “recognise the supremacy of parliament”.
Cllr Roger Lawrence, the Labour leader of Wolverhampton council and WMCA lead on transport, responded to the police commissioner’s comments:
The mayor has to be the leader of a team and not some autocratic figure.
The meeting heard presentations on the proposed WMCA Strategic Economic Plan, which sets out an £8 billion 30-year investment programme and pledges to create 500,000 new jobs by 2030.
The SEP, described by Coventry council chief executive Martin Reeves, as “incredibly ambitious” proposes to double GVA – the Government’s preferred measure of economic output – from £77 billion a year to £150 billion by 2030.
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