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West Midlands Combined Authority will ‘grind to a halt’ without Labour-Tory co-operation

West Midlands Combined Authority will ‘grind to a halt’ without Labour-Tory co-operation

🕔10.Nov 2015

Claims that the West Midlands is entering a new era of cross-party political co-operation will be put fully to the test when the region’s combined authority starts work next year.

The most important decisions will require the approval of all seven metropolitan council leaders, Chamberlain Files can reveal.

The new strategic authority will simply grind to a halt if the Labour leaders of Birmingham, Coventry and the Black Country councils cannot agree with the Conservative leaders of Solihull and Walsall.

A proposed constitution for the West Midlands Combined Authority submitted to the Government says it is envisaged the politicians will generally reach decisions by consensus and only in “exceptional” circumstances will it be necessary to hold a formal vote.

The chair, currently Solihull council leader Bob Sleigh, and vice-chair Sandwell council leader Darren Cooper will not have a second or casting vote.

The document makes it clear that the metropolitan council leaders will be the only voting members, although voting rights could eventually be extended to district councils and local enterprise partnerships – but only if all seven metropolitan council leaders agree to do so.

Even decisions deemed to be of lesser importance will require a two-thirds majority for approval.

The scheme details a long list of areas where all council leaders “present and voting” at a board meeting will have to be in agreement:

  • Approval of land use plans
  • Other plans and strategies as determined by the combined authority
  • Financial matters which may have significant implications on constituent authorities’ budgets
  • Approval of borrowing limits, treasury management strategy including reserves, investment strategy and capital budget of the combined authority
  • Agreement of functions transferred to the combined authority
  • Extension of voting rights to all or any non-constituent member
  • Approval of specific proposals for individual co-optees to the combined authority
  • Use of general power of competence beyond the powers provided within the Local Democracy Economic Development and Construction Act 2009, including in relation to spatial strategy, housing numbers and compulsory purchase powers
  • Establishment of arms-length companies
  • Approval to seek such other powers as may be appropriate and any new powers granted by government.
  • Amendments to the constitution
  • Changes to transport matters currently undertaken by the West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority.

The combined authority will have 15 members. Seven councils will be constituent members with full voting rights – Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull and Walsall.

Non-constituent members will be Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP, Black Country LEP, Coventry and Warwickshire LEP, Cannock Chase council, Nuneaton and Bedworth council, Redditch council, Tamworth council and Telford and Wrekin council.

The constitution says the combined authority represents an opportunity to have a “strong, shared voice for the region” and to make a step change in collective efforts to drive economic prosperity.

It sets out the key aims of WMCA:

The combined authority’s ambition will be to help to increase competitiveness and productivity, create more skilled and better paid jobs, bring more investment into the area, reform public services and reduce the region’s welfare bill.

The combined authority will drive these ambitions through its primary focus to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of transport in the area, the exercise of statutory functions relating to economic development and regeneration in the area, and economic conditions in the area.

The combined authority will manage a significant programme of investment in transport and economic infrastructure, and influence and align with government investment, in order to boost economic development and regeneration.

The document continues:

Effective engagement with the LEPs and the wider business community is critical to the delivery of this ambition. The relationship between the LEPs and the Combined Authority will be seamless and will engage the wider business community, ensuring that all partners play to their strengths in contributing to a wider ambition for more and better jobs.

Investment decisions taken by the Combined Authority will reflect business views. These views, both in terms of shaping prioritisation and scheme design, will ensure that public investment is targeted to maximise business benefit, which is key to economic growth.

The strategic economic plan will be “underpinned by the principle that all communities benefit, but not necessarily at the same time and in the same way”, according to the constitution.

When the combined authority begins work next May, the West Midlands Integrate Transport Authority and transport executive Centro will be dissolved and their powers passed to WMCA.

It is proposed WMCA will be able to levy a council tax precept to meet the “reasonable” cost of running the region’s transport.

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