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Manchester gets £22bn metro mayor, as Greater Birmingham combined authority talks continue

Manchester gets £22bn metro mayor, as Greater Birmingham combined authority talks continue

🕔03.Nov 2014

Birmingham and the West Midlands’ hopes of taking part in the biggest ever transfer of powers from Westminster to the regions received a potential boost today as the Government confirmed that Greater Manchester will be getting a directly elected metro mayor, says Paul Dale.

Chancellor George Osborne said he was keen to talk to other cities who wanted to follow Manchester’s lead, although Greater Birmingham is unlikely to be among the first tranche of city regions to benefit from the devolution revolution.

The Government’s intention is clear, however. If Birmingham, Solihull and the Black Country councils can overcome historic rivalries and agree to form a combined authority, a metro mayor with wide ranging powers covering transport, housing, planning and policing is a certainty.

Talks between political leaders of the Greater Birmingham councils and officials are continuing in an effort to reach an agreement in principle.

However, a source familiar with the discussions said the councils were not yet in a position where anything could be “put down on paper”. The hope was to meet a Christmas deadline and some progress was being made.

Sir Albert Bore, the leader of Birmingham city council, welcomed Mr Osborne’s announcement and warned that the West Midlands had to “get its act together” in order to cash in on devolved powers being offered through a combined authority. “We are working very hard to bring this about and we hope to make an announcement before Christmas,” Sir Albert added.

It’s expected that Mr Osborne will confirm in his Autumn Statement that the other combined authorities – Sheffield, North-east, Liverpool and South Yorkshire – are also to have metro mayors, although the powers they are handed might not at first be as extensive as Manchester’s.

The City Growth Commission, an independent body set up to advise the Government on devolution, recently identified 15 English metro areas that would benefit from elected mayors. Greater Birmingham is on the list, but the commission believed that the area was not yet ready to take on the responsibility of devolved powers and budgets.

Last month Chamberlain Files revealed how tensions behind the scenes over slow progress in the West Midlands towards agreeing combined authority status were boiling over.

Sandwell Council leader Darren Cooper accused Solihull Council of dragging its feet and warned the Black Country councils might drop Birmingham and join South Staffordshire, Stoke and Telford in forming a combined authority if a deal could not be finalised by Christmas.

West Midlands’ councillors from across the political divide remain suspicious of elected mayors. Most are adamantly opposed to the idea, which has twice been rejected in Birmingham since 2002.

They will have to overcome their objections if the region is to benefit from maximum devolution since the Chancellor has made it clear that council leaders must approve the mayoral principle in order to avoid the need for a referendum.

Confirmation of a Greater Manchester mayor brought a sharp attack from Birmingham Labour councillor John Clancy, who described the announcement as “a massive moment in history that has been missed by the West Midlands”.

Cllr Clancy, who has twice unsuccessfully stood for leadership of the Birmingham council Labour group, added: “Economic self-determination for Birmingham and the West Midlands is needed now. That means Birmingham must join forces with the Black Country now to achieve a combined authority. We should commit this month.”

Greater Manchester’s mayor will be elected in 2017 and will preside over the 10 councils in the combined authority area.

The mayor will have control of a £22 billion annual budget including g a £300 million housing fund and powers over strategic planning as well as assuming the responsibilities of the police and crime commissioner.

But he or she must get the support of two-thirds of the combined authority’s council leaders to introduce major changes.

Other benefits include:

  • A devolved and consolidated transport budget, with a multi-year settlement to be agreed at the next Spending Review, responsibility for franchised bus services and for integrated smart ticketing across all local modes of transport
  • A £1 billion boost to extend the Manchester metro network.

The Greater Manchester combined authority will be handed responsibility for business support services, control of the apprenticeship grant for employers and the power to re-shape and re-structure further education provision.

Health and social care budgets across Greater Manchester will be integrated.

The Chancellor said: “This is a massive moment for the north of England and our plan to build the Northern Powerhouse.

“After several months of private discussions with local representatives from all three parties, I have reached agreement with the civic leaders of Greater Manchester to create the first metro-wide elected mayor outside of London.

“This will give Mancunians a powerful voice and bring practical improvements for local people, with better transport links, an Oyster-style travelcard, and more investment in skills and the city’s economy.

“I want to talk to other cities who are keen to follow Manchester’s lead – every city is different, and no model of local power will be the same.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles described the deal as a “landmark agreement” and an “important step” in efforts to decentralise power.

Lord Peter Smith, chair of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, said: “Make no mistake, this devolution settlement is a momentous moment for Greater Manchester. It gives us greater control over own destiny in several key areas and the ability to base decisions on local priorities and needs rather than on ‘one size fits all’ dictates from Westminster. “

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