COVENTRY council has voted to join in a West Midlands Combined Authority.
Labour’s ruling majority pushed the controversial measure through a full council meeting on Tuesday (October 13).
Opposition Conservative councillors had called for Labour leaders to work up an urgent business case for entering a Coventry and Warwickshire combined authority instead. Tory-run Warwickshire County Council and district councils in Warwickshire have voted against joining.
Coventry Conservatives had joined more than 4,000 Coventry people (who signed a petition) in demanding a referendum to let the public decide.
It follows the disclosure of a secret document – initially leaked to the Coventry Observer four weeks ago after our enquiries – which revealed plans for an elected mayor to head the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) with wide-ranging powers. They include powers to raise Council Tax and Business Rates and pool business rates, which will have a major impact on Coventry council and its people.
Since joining the WMCA ‘in principle’ in May, council leaders had insisted powers would only transfer down from Westminster and Whitehall to enable the region to run its own affairs, and would not transfer up from Coventry.
Coventry City Council leader Ann Lucas said Coventry entering the WMCA would enable leaders of the seven councils involved to continue negotiations with government over which powers should be devolved – over economic development, transport, housing and other policy areas.
But she said the final deal on offer from government, whether or not it meant an elected mayor (a system rejected by Coventry voters in a referendum three years ago), would have to go back to the full council for debate and approval.
Of the ultimate deal on the table, she added: “If Coventry decides it’s not good enough for our city then it won’t happen – it’s as simple as that.”
Tory opposition leader, councillor John Blundell, re-iterated a Conservative pledge to give Coventry people a referendum on whether to be part of the WMCA if the Tories win back power at the Council House.
Responding in the council chamber, Coun Lucas said: “You have to do what’s right, not what’s populist.”
Tories warned that Birmingham – where the council was in a “parlous state” financially – would take power away from Coventry, and claimed the former West Midlands County Council had been a “disaster”.
Coun Blundell said going in with WMCA would “result in a further fracturing of the relationship between Coventry and Warwickshire” – which shared historic and travel-to-work links, and a common identity.
Despite Coun Lucas stating today (Wednesday) that an elected mayor might have to be a “pill to swallow”, she also said in a statement yesterday: “All seven councils are working together to get the best devolution deal from government without the need for a metro mayor – and we are negotiating hard to get the best possible deal for local people.”
This is despite the leaked ‘Draft WMCA Agreement’ document revealing that arrangements with an elected mayor are actively being considered by the seven council leaders who form the interim (“shadow”) WMCA.
Chancellor George Osborne has said combined authorities must agree to have an elected mayor if they want the “full suite of powers” on offer.
Conservative-run Solihull council also voted the join the WMCA yesterday.