COVENTRY and towns in Warwickshire will ‘retain their own unique identities’ in the advent of the West Midlands Combined Authority – according to a business leader.
Louise Bennett, chief executive of the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, has issued a statement claiming the city and the county will benefit from the ‘devolved powers’ from Whitehall, but will ‘keep their own individuality’.
She was speaking after years of controversy and public concern that decisions made by the WMCA – headed by an elected metro mayor – could disproportionately favour the Birmingham conurbation as opposed to Coventry, and with Warwickshire County Council not a full voting member.
Coventry City Council refused to allow a referendum on the proposal following a petition signed by thousands of people, after Coventry voters in 2012 voted two-to-one against an elected mayor city to run the council.
The WMCA was formed in June and the first mayor elections are set for next May after a ‘devolution deal’ is finalised with government.
Ms Bennett said Coventry and Warwickshire must use it to their advantage and be confident of their place within it.
She said: “When we kicked off our Go For Growth campaign at the start of 2016, one of the topics we earmarked was image and what Coventry and Warwickshire’s place and role would be in the new combined authority.
“But a few months on from the official formation of the WMCA, I believe the city and the county – with all its towns and villages – can have confidence in their own individual strengths and make the most of this opportunity to shape a future within the wider region.
“If you take Coventry, it’s in a much stronger position than a decade ago. The two universities are thriving, there is a diverse and strong business community – including Jaguar Land Rover – and the city is confidently bidding to be the UK City of Culture in 2021.
“That bid is galvanising the whole city – with businesses and individuals backing it – and is helping to raise the profile of Coventry’s past, present and future.
“The bid has the support of the WMCA and, should we be successful, it would bring social, cultural and economic benefits to the whole region.
“The towns of mid-Warwickshire – Leamington, Warwick and Kenilworth – have never struggled with their identity and they continue to go from strength to strength. From Warwick Castle through to the digital/games cluster that has developed in Leamington known as silicon spa.
“The north of Warwickshire has a thriving industrial sector and is also home to the amazing research and development facility at HORIBA MIRA.
“Stratford, too, is known the world over because of the connection to Shakespeare and the commemorations of the 400th anniversary since his death have proved that once again.
“Rugby is undergoing rapid growth and, since the Rugby Union World Cup, is really beginning to make the most of its connections with the sport with the new hall of fame opening.
“Our campaign has, undoubtedly, raised many issues that businesses face and the solutions to those vary but I believe that we can be clear and confident that Coventry and Warwickshire is a great place to live, work and do business.”