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‘We won’t put up with combined authority being called Greater Birmingham’, warn Black Country councils

‘We won’t put up with combined authority being called Greater Birmingham’, warn Black Country councils

🕔17.Mar 2015

Black Country councils have set out a ‘red lines’ list of areas they won’t put up with if joining a Combined Authority alongside Birmingham and Solihull.

At the top of the potential show stoppers is any suggestion that the new authority be called Greater Birmingham. The leaders of Sandwell, Dudley, Walsall and Wolverhampton councils say the new body should be known as the West Midlands combined authority.

The list also rules out the possibility of an elected metro mayor presiding over the authority.

The naming rights issue has always been tricky for Birmingham, keen not to be seen as an overbearing partner and highly sensitive over accusations that it is domineering.

Birmingham council leaders were stressing before Christmas that a decision about naming the combined authority would be way down a list of priorities and wasn’t really of any importance.

But the Black Country councils have made it clear they see the name as a key issue that has to be sorted out before progress can be made.

Darren Cooper, the leader of Sandwell Council, wrote to the leaders of Birmingham, Solihull and Coventry councils in his capacity as chair of the Black Country councils.

Cllr Cooper said: “With regard to the notion of a metro mayor, the Black Country Councils would like to use the following wording in our communications: ‘A metro or regional mayor is not part of the solution for the governance structure of the West Midlands and will not be a part of any agreements to create a combined authority’.

“Secondly, with regard to the name of the combined authority we have to think about what will be acceptable to the individual councils and the residents of the localities.

“The argument that the combined authority will be the vehicle for international business to negotiate with is, in our view as the Black Country, not an appropriate argument as the combined authority will not be operating in this space.

“Therefore Black Country councils believe that the name should be West Midlands Combined Authority.

“We would urge colleagues to support this so that we can give clear direction to officers in regard to the name and mayor issues. This will then allow officers to focus on the economic analysis and other work streams already approved by leaders.”

Cllr Cooper took to Twitter to defend his stance, stating that the Black Country and Coventry “do not see themselves as Greater Birmingham”.

Birmingham city council chief executive Mark Rogers appeared to support Cllr Cooper. Mr Rogers wrote on Twitter that while ‘Greater Birmingham’ made sense when promoting the region for inward investment at the MIPIM real estate fair, a combined authority “isn’t the brand for internal inward investment”.

In October last year Cllr Cooper seized the political agenda by setting a Christmas deadline for agreement with Birmingham and Solihull about setting up a combined authority. His intervention came after the Government made it clear that maximum devolution for local councils is dependent on forming combined authorities – strategic bodies taking control of economic development and transportation.

Chancellor George Osborne wants combined authorities to be run by elected metro mayors. The Greater Manchester combined authority, which signed a £550 million growth deal with the Government and is being allowed to take control of a £6 billion NHS budget, will elect a mayor in 2017.

Work is underway on a major economic study designed to convince Solihull and Coventry councils of the benefits of joining a combined authority with Birmingham and the Black Country. But a final decision over the make-up of a West Midlands combined authority is unlikely to be taken until after the General Election.

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