The Chamberlain Files | Homepage
WMCA: Nothing to see here…move along

WMCA: Nothing to see here…move along

🕔14.Sep 2019

As the Prime Minister prepared to address leaders ‘up North’ gathering for the Convention of the North, members of the West Midlands Combined Authority Board filed into Birmingham council chamber for their monthly consideration of reports and motions, writes Kevin Johnson

Since they last met in this forum, a review of HS2 has been announced and a stocktake on its delays and overspends published.

This was the week when Parliament legislated to prevent a No Deal Brexit whilst the Prime Minister continues to insist the UK will leave the EU at the end of next month with or without a deal.

Work undertaken by Birmingham city council and City-REDI has made clear that the West Midlands would be one of the two worst affected regions in a No Deal scenario.

But neither of these momentous issues warranted a passing mention at yesterday’s WMCA Board. Not even in the Mayor’s Remarks, the opportunity to reflect on issues of the day not being covered under the agenda.

ITV had chosen this meeting to bring in its camera. If it was hoping for exciting scenes of regional democracy in action it was in for a major disappointment.

Business was done in 34 minutes. That it took so long was largely down to the Police and Crime Commissioner taking three opportunities to elaborately express his support for a proposal or tell us the police are already working hard on it.

At least he made a contribution. The Financial Monitoring Report, which set out a predicted overspend of more than half a million pounds at year end, went without comment from Board members.

The draft Commonwealth Games Transport Plan and an additional allocation of £4M to the City of Culture went with very little further fuss.

New Overview and Scrutiny chair Lisa Trickett did take the opportunity to highlight matters of interest to her committee. Among other workstreams, they will be looking at the investment challenges faced by the Authority. So it should.

Financial Monitoring reports haven been highlighting the challenge of identifying and raising new forms of funding in order to maintain borrowing and investment levels for months. Putting aside HS2 and No Deal Brexit, a limited investment budget could be the biggest threat to the WMCA project which balances devolved funding with the requirement for a directly-elected Mayor.

As a strong supporter of Liam Byrne’s candidacy for Mayor, Cllr Trickett is well placed to pick holes in Mr Street’s administration in the coming months.

Ahead of Board papers, Chamberlain Files had been anticipating much more business as highlighted in earlier versions of the WMCA’s Forward Plan. That hardly any of them, such as a Public Service Reform White Paper, came through might owe something to the impending departure of director Henry Kippin.

One of the main criticisms of WMCA and its leadership team, as we will increasingly hear from Labour Mayoral candidates, is the top-heavy nature of the Authority’s structure and its addiction to strategies, policies, reviews and task forces. Where is the delivery, they ask?

Earlier this week, housing and communities secretary Robert Jenrick told the Local Government Chronicle that he would pursue devolution to local government with the “same vim and vigour” as former chancellor George Osborne.

He said that he had seen the impact elected mayors can have on “bringing public services together and business and providing a very strong voice to government.”

Yesterday, Boris Johnson reaffirmed his pledge to give even more powers to people, businesses and political leaders across Northern regions. A new growth body will be established and transport will be “devolved” to regions in the north.

Here in the West Midlands there is increasing pessimism about the prospects for HS2. “Descoping” might be the best we can hope for.

In most circumstances, you an rely on Andy Street to “peddle optimism.” Not yesterday. Not a word.

During the meeting, the Mayor’s official twitter feed again highlighted his recent Cricket Cup. It has had more mentions this week than Brexit or HS2 on both his Twitter accounts, mainly as they did not register at all.

Where is the fightback? Where is the energy and force of argument to convince Boris Johnson to keep HS2 on track?

Statistics and comments are being collated.

The North has launched its Connecting Britain campaign.

But who is engaging hearts and minds, especially beyond business, industry and political leaders? You know, commuters and travellers who will suffer most from Victorian rail infrastructure that will soon be over capacity and young people who will not be able to connect to additional economic opportunities.

Boris Johnson told his audience in Rotherham:

I am the first Prime Minister since Clement Attlee to have been a mayor – and I know the transformative potential of local, accountable leadership.

As we have argued before, it’s time to take to the driver’s seat Mr Mayor.

It might be said the WMCA Board is not an assembly where the region’s political leaders are meant to debate the great issues of the day. Cabinets and Boards are where matters are signed off following preparatory work in committees and elsewhere.

The Mayor and the WMCA have limited powers and, maybe it follows, can have little effect on national decisions.

But we are living in extraordinary times. Times that call for strong voices and accountable leadership.

None were on show yesterday at WMCA’s ultimate decision making body. Nothing to see here, move along….

Main pic: George Kleine presents the Cines photo drama Quo Vadis Nero sings while Rome burns.

Similar Articles

Mayor 2020: on the right track?

Mayor 2020: on the right track?

The race to win the West Midlands mayoralty may be the election contest to watch

Just when you thought the election was over…

Just when you thought the election was over…

As Members of Parliament began to be sworn in yesterday, the long campaign for Mayor

The Day of Truth

The Day of Truth

So, here it is. The polls will open in a few minutes. Contain your excitement

PM: gave unlawful advice; frustrated Parliament

PM: gave unlawful advice; frustrated Parliament

"Scenes." As young people would say, writes Kevin Johnson. "Unlawful." "Unequivocal." "Historical." These words are not,

HS2: new driver needed

HS2: new driver needed

Is the Oakervee Review "welcome", "frustrating" or the end of the line for HS2, asks

About Author

Chamberlain Files Weekly

Don't miss a thing! Sign up for our free weekly summary of the Chamberlain Files from RJF Public Affairs.
* = required field

powered by MailChimp!

Our latest tweets

Published by

Published by


Our community