COVENTRY council’s Labour leaders are to press ahead with plans to take part in a new West Midlands Combined Authority – in the hope of winning new powers for the region from Westminster.
The government has re-iterated it wants new regional authorities to receive powers to decide how they spend money for jobs schemes and economic regeneration, transport, housing and other policy areas.
With the Tories now commanding a Parliamentary majority, chancellor George Osborne last week said those devolved powers could also include health and other budgets.
But he said regions would first have to agree to have an elected mayor to run the combined authority if they wanted more powers.
It comes just three years after Coventry and Birmingham voters overwhelmingly rejected in referenda the government’s plans for elected mayors to lead their city councils on a more parochial scale.
Following those ‘No’ votes, the new government does not intend to give the public a say over installing a regionwide so-called ‘metro mayor’.
David Cameron’s Conservatives have long argued elected mayors are more accountable than current leader and cabinet models of governance, such as exists at Coventry City Council.
Coventry Labour councilllors including Kevin Maton and Jayne Innes took to Twitter today to scold another local newspaper over repeated headlines suggesting the combined authority could create a “Greater Birmingham”.
Coventry council would be retained under the proposals – as has happened at 10 local councils in the Greater Manchester region.
Four years ago, they agreed to work in partnership in a new flagship Greater Mancester Combined Authority, which has already won some new powers from the government.
If the Manchester model is followed – as all three main Westminster parties urged before the General Election – each council agreeing to take part in the West Midlands Combined Authority would send one member, and each would have an equal vote.
Coventry council leader Ann Lucas said today: “This means power moving from Whitehall to the West Midlands – not from Coventry to Birmingham.”
The Labour group at Coventry City Council decided last night (Monday) to “within weeks” work up a detailed recommendation that it should “in principle” take part in the new West Midlands combined authority.
The recommendation would be debated at the council’s Labour cabinet and a Labour controlled full council meeting.
It is still unclear whether councils in Warwickshire will follow suit, although Birmingham and Black Country councils are in favour.
Coventry Conservatives have not backed the plan. They have argued Coventry could be better placed as a sub-region with Warwickshire councils – lobbying government for more powers and funding , including via the existing Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).
Labour council leaders say it would lack the clout of a much larger West Midlands Combined Authority.
LEPS – partnerships between local councils and businesses – were set up by the coalition government after 2010 to compete for some funds and powers from government.
Critics since 2010 have argued the government’s so-called ‘localism’ agenda – of handing more powers to local communites – actually granted more than 100 more powers to government ministers and Whitehall.
Conservative ministers now say calls for greater devolution to Scotland – and the SNP’s landslide election victory north of the border – has triggered a need for more self-determining powers to the English regions to run their own affairs.
But that rhetoric is contradicted by ministers dictating that regions must have a metro mayor to get powers.
The government continues to overwhelmingly control local government budgets and councils’ tax-raising powers.
The government also intends to continue disproportionate public funding cuts to local councils in their attempt to elimiate the national deficit.
Coventry council estimates those government funding cuts since 2010 have removed around £100million for the local economy.
Conservatives nationally opposed Labour’s plans to boost the regions under Tony Blair’s government, which the Tories then argued would create a wasteful and unaccountable extra bureaucratic layer of government.