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West Midlands combined authority ‘won’t be politicians’ talking shop’

West Midlands combined authority ‘won’t be politicians’ talking shop’

🕔14.Aug 2015

The West Midlands combined authority will be a “streamlined and strategically focused body” rather than a bureaucratic talking shop, the region’s council leaders have promised.

A statutory governance review putting the case for the new arrangements says a combined authority will ensure more effective and efficient delivery of economic growth, skills and transport functions and will unlock the economic potential of the West Midlands.

The leaders of the seven metropolitan authorities – Birmingham, Solihull, Coventry, Wolverhampton, Sandwell, Dudley and Walsall – hope to get Government approval to set up a combined authority which would also take in areas covered by three local enterprise partnerships – the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP, the Black Country LEP and Coventry and Warwickshire LEP.

The new body would have powers to run economic development and transportation, and would result in abolition of the West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority.

The seven metropolitan council leaders and the LEP chairs would each have one vote on the board. However, the governance review makes no mention of the probability that the combined authority will have to be overseen by a directly elected metro mayor in order to gain maximum devolved powers from the Government.

Described as a ”transparent and effective decision making process” the review says a combined authority would be a “visible, stable and statutory body” which could attract further funding to the West Midlands as well as devolved powers from the Government.

The make-up of the new body is described:

The combined authority will not be another layer of politicians. It is a way of bringing together existing activities to create greater coherence.

It will be a streamlined and strategically focussed body, appropriately resourced to ensure more effective and efficient delivery of economic growth, skills and transport functions across the West Midlands.

It will be underpinned by strong research, intelligence and advocacy functions. It will deliver area-wide functions around the co-ordination of funding streams, seeking investment and collective resourcing and other responsibilities devolved from central government and other agencies.

This will lead to greater self-reliance as the West Midlands will have the means to unlock its economic potential.

The document makes it clear that the aim is to widen the new authority to take in district councils in Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Staffordshire, reflecting the economic geography of the three LEPs. If all goes according to plan, the West Midlands combined authority will include 20 councils covering an area with a population of more than four million people.

The presence on the management board of the three LEP chairs is said to be vital to underline the body’s public-private partnership principles.

The review notes:

This joint accountability and leadership would increase collective responsibility. It would create a transparent and effective decision making process.

The combined authority would provide a visible, stable and statutory body which could act as an accountable body to attract further funding to the West Midlands. It would be a vehicle capable of seeking additional powers which can be devolved from Government.

A determination to close the region’s skills and economic performance gap lies at the heart of the new initiative:

The West Midlands intends to create the most effective combined authority in the country, in order to propel the economy to further growth than can be achieved at present. The region’s leaders are committed to delivering growth, prosperity and well-being for the benefit of all residents.

Collaboration will enable the creation of a wider regional economy that aims to be the strongest outside of London and which contributes fully to the vision of a wider Midlands Engine for Growth.

The review concludes that a combined authority would be the most appropriate governance model for councils and LEPs to act together to deliver their economic development, regeneration and transport functions.

This stronger governance will deliver a more joined up strategic approach. It will bring together policy interventions in transport and in respect of the key economic drivers that will deliver enhanced growth. By working this way, members of a combined authority can deliver shared strategic priorities that are best addressed at a scale above local boundaries.

The challenge for the West Midlands is said to be to address the “complex and inter-related issues which have held back its growth”.

The three LEP areas annually contribute more than £80 billion of Gross Value Added (GVA) to the UK economy. In 2012-13, the region’s output grew by more than four per cent, one of the fastest growth rates in any region of the UK.

Even stronger growth is being held back by a skills deficit which has led to high levels of unemployment and low levels of productivity. If unemployment rates moved into line with the England average, there would be 14,500 fewer claimants, resulting in a welfare benefits saving in excess of £35 million per annum.

The West Midlands Combined Authority says it is engaging throughout August on its Governance Review with a view to submitting it to Government in October. Consultation details can be found here. The Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce is staging an ‘Engaging with Business’ event next week featuring the chief executives of Birmingham and Solihull councils and GBSLEP’s programme delivery director. 

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