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Will Budget Day trigger Street’s Devo 2.0?

Will Budget Day trigger Street’s Devo 2.0?

🕔22.Nov 2017

Back in July, as Andy Street stood with his friend and Business Secretary Greg Clark to talk about the forthcoming Industrial Strategy at the University of Birmingham, there was no small degree of pride that the West Midlands was the only region to be negotiating a second devolution deal with Government.

Between today’s Budget and Monday, with publication of the Industrial Strategy White Paper, we should see the results of the Mayor’s efforts.

Budget week kicked off with the Government’s announcement of a £1.7m Transforming Cities Fund, with £250 earmarked for the West Midlands. The Mayor confirmed that would be used on the Midland Metro extension from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill.

The Government has also committed to working with industry to increase investment in research and development to 2.4% of GDP. This forms part of the Industrial Strategy, to be unveiled next Monday, which will also feature four “Grand Challenges” that will “reflect global trends that will shape our future..”

In Budget news apparently forced out by Number 10 last night, against the wishes of the occupier of the next door property, there is a promise to spend more on maths teaching in schools.

In what some Government insiders have described as the worst Budget build up in history, today’s statement could be themed around anything from the driverless cars revolution to a multi-billion investment in housing. Or, more like, a bits and pieces Budget that doesn’t go far enough to please anyone inside or outside the Conservative Government.

Against the backdrop of one of the most challenging periods for any post war Government, Mayor Street, local government colleagues and WMCA staff have been trying to negotiate a devolution deal with ministers and officials. Publicly and privately, many have expressed frustration at dealing with a Government which seems anything but strong and stable and which has several priorities which do not necessarily include an energetic continuation of George Osborne’s devolution agenda.

In that context, anything of substance which Andy Street secures – over and above the transport cash – will be something of a triumph.

Since the Conservative Party Conference in October, skills has become the Mayor’s priority. But it’s also the policy area which is proving most difficult in which to secure devolved powers and budgets. In a break from his usual style, Mayor Street and others around the WMCA table have not concealed their displeasure at the Department for Education.

The WMCA is looking to devolve powers and responsibilities to align skills training and careers advice with the needs of the region’s key industrial sectors. In particular, the Mayor and his colleagues are focussing on the electric and autonomous vehicles, digital and construction sectors.

It is likely that funding of around £0.5bn for the Housing First pilot will be confirmed, helping the Mayor to make progress on his commitment upon election to tackle homelessness.

However, there is less certainty about support for house building. There is speculation that specific commitments on housing may not follow until early in 2018.

In a cross party letter from regional MPs to the Chancellor last week, sent in support of Andy Street and the WMCA, it also called on Philip Hammond to back the piloting of new approaches to public services, including mental health.

It is possible that there will be announcements about the merging of the Police and Crime Commissioner role into that of the Mayor in time for the next election in 2020. The WMCA is already in the process of absorbing the West Midlands Fire Authority.

From around 12.45pm today, we will learn just what will make up Devo Deal 2.0.

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