COVENTRY and West Midlands council leaders have submitted plans for a combined authority to government which could include having an all-powerful elected mayor for the region.
It is despite Coventry council’s Labour leaders campaigning against having an elected mayor system to lead the council in 2012 – when two-thirds of Coventry voters also said ‘No’ to the idea.
The vast majority of leading Labour councillors at the time argued elected mayor systems placed too much power in the hands of one individual.
More than 4000 people have now signed a petition calling for a second referendum on whether Coventry should joint the West Midlands Authority.
But that call was rejected by Coventry Labour leaders, who began a public consultation while pressing ahead with their favoured plans by creating a shadow West Midlands Combined Authority.
Coventry Tories have argued the city should stay out if Warwickshire does not join.
Conservative-run Warwickshire County Council last week voted against joining, and urged Coventry to instead bolster its links with the county which surrounds it.
Warwickshire County Council Conservative leader Izzi Seccombe said she could see no advantage for county people in joining the “unelected” WMCA, which she claimed would see money and spending powers transferred to the region from the more democratic, elected Warwickshire council.
Coventry Labour leader Ann Lucas contested her claims over powers, and said she was “saddened” by Warwickshire’s decision.
The seven Coventry, Solihull, Birmingham and black country councils involved in negotiations with government over devolving powers from Westminster to the WMCA have now indicated they are considering having an elected mayor to run it.
Chancellor George Osborne has made clear an elected mayor is necessary if regions want the “full suite of powers”on offer, over transport, economic development, the NHS and police.
The shadow WMCA on Friday submitted proposals for a devolution deal to the government.
A statement issued by Coventry City Council read: “As part of the devolution negotiation, we are discussing with the government the most appropriate governance structures, including an elected mayor, to be accountable for whatever devolved powers are agreed.
“We are keeping an open mind on those issues and consider them an intrinsic part of the negotiations.”
It adds the proposals “support the WMCA’s overall aims of closing both the productivity and the public spending gap, alongside working with the NHS and police.”
The proposals include:
• An £8billion ten-year investment fund controlled by the region – for transport and use of an “increased supply of development land”.
• Implementation of the HS2 high speed rail line “growth strategy”, including regeneration around the Curzon (Birmingham city centre) and Interchange HS2 stations
• An integrated new employment and skills system for the West Midlands to support young people and the unemployed.
Shadow WMCA board chairman Bob Sleigh, Solihull council Tory leader, has also said the region might have to accept the need for an elected mayor in return for powers – which critics say will not be as great as the spending powers being removed to councils by ongoing unprecedented government cuts.
The elected mayor could also take on responsibilities from the police and crime commissioner (PCC), a role which could become defunct.
Warwickshire PCC Ron Ball has said proposals for a West Midlands Combined Authority “lack clarity”, were being “rushed” and raised “significant questions over the implications for policing”.