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‘You must have metro mayor to get devo-max’ Osborne tells Greater Birmingham

‘You must have metro mayor to get devo-max’ Osborne tells Greater Birmingham

🕔20.Nov 2014

A Birmingham and Black Country combined authority must have a metro mayor in order to benefit from the type of devolution package given to Greater Manchester, the Chancellor has said.

George Osborne gave the clearest indication yet that the West Midlands is in line to follow Manchester with a multi-billion pound deal for economic development and transport, but an elected mayor would be necessary for “a really big transfer of powers” from Westminster.

Birmingham and the Black Country councils have agreed in principle to set up a combined authority – a strategic body of council leaders responsible for cross-boundary decisions on a range of functions including skills, regeneration and transport.

Talks are continuing in an attempt to bring Solihull and Coventry on board, with the possibility of some Worcestershire and Staffordshire district councils joining as well.

Mr Osborne’s insistence on a metro mayor for maximum devolution is certain to throw a political bombshell into the combined authority discussions. West Midlands council leaders have made it clear that they do not want an elected mayor, with the exception of Birmingham leader Sir Albert Bore who is a long-standing supporter of the idea.

The Greater Manchester councils were initially against the mayoral model, but changed their attitude when Mr Osborne put his foot down. In return for electing a mayor the Greater Manchester combined authority will be able to build a £450 million tram network, benefit from a £300 million housing fund and a £500 million skills budget and it stands to gain further devolved powers in future.

The prospect of a metro mayor places the West Midlands’ Labour-run councils in a tricky political position. A combined authority that includes Solihull and the rural parts of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership could not be guaranteed to elect a Labour mayor, in sharp contrast to Greater Manchester where Labour would always expect to prevail.

The Chancellor said he was willing to work across party lines “to get what is right for Birmingham and the West Midlands.”

Mr Osborne’s made his view clear in an interview with the Birmingham Post.

He revealed that Treasury officials are talking to Birmingham and the Black Country councils about setting up a combined authority, and added: “Certainly what is available for Manchester is the kind of thing that will be available to Birmingham and the surrounding areas. And that’s the conversation we want to have.

“There is no one size fits all model. But I am saying that if you want a really big transfer of powers to a big metro area then I think an elected mayor is part of that package.”

He added: “I am a believer in improving and strengthening the civic leadership of these cities… I think cities of sufficient size – metro areas – do better when they have directly elected mayors.”

Mr Osborne’s conversion to the mayoral model has been little short of astonishing.

The Chancellor was noticeably quiet on the matter when Birmingham and other cities staged referendums in 2012, with most cities including Birmingham rejecting a mayor.

Mr Osborne now appears to believe that mayors are essential for forward-thinking cities and regions. Earlier this month he suggested that Birmingham might get an elected mayor after all.

The Chancellor also announced plans to draw up a long-term economic plan for the Midlands, and every other region, before next year’s budget. The move is part of a strategy to boost growth in the regions.

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