A LEADING Coventry Labour councillor has admitted the West Midlands Combined Authority is the “biggest smokescreen going” – months after he and colleagues voted to join it.
Coventry City Council’s Labour leaders under leader Ann Lucas repeatedly publicly insisted joining the WMCA was crucial for future investment in the city and wider region – and to win new powers and funds from central government.
Now ruling cabinet member Ed Ruane has said today: “We all know that the combined authority is the biggest smokescreen going, as we all continue to receive less funding from central government.”
They offered no such public criticisms of the government’s proposals for combined authorities last year as they sought to persuade a sceptical public in Coventry.
Several ruling Labour councillors including Coun Lucas had repeatedly attacked media scrutiny of the proposal, and opponents.
Thousands of petitioners, supported by the council’s Tory opposition, had called for a referendum to allow Coventry people to decide, amid widespread fears that powers and funds could shift towards the Birmingham conurbation away from Coventry, not just from London as Coventry’s leaders insisted.
Labour leaders last year also accepted in principle joining a WMCA to be headed by an elected mayor. It came despite their opposition to such a mayoral system in Coventry in 2012, when Coventrians voted two-to-one against an elected mayor in a referendum.
Tory chancellor George Osborne had said having an all-powerful single mayoral figure directly accountable to the people in elections every four years was necessary if councils in regional combination were to receive the “full suite of powers”.
Under the WMCA’s own leaked proposals to government, the West Midlands elected mayor – or metro mayor – will have considerable powers in areas of council tax, business rates, transport and economic policy.
Coventry City Council has said it will hold a separate vote – expected within months – on whether to accept the final devolution deal offered by government to the WMCA. An interim “shadow” WMCA board of leaders from seven West Midlands and Solihull councils, including Coun Lucas, has already been established.
Councillor Ruane’s broadside against the government’s “smokescreen” regarding the WMCA comes in a press release today against government cuts and funding arrangements to local councils.
It states Coventry will miss out on a £300million ‘transitional grant’ fund for councils hit by biggest cuts, and that he has written to Conservative Greg Clark MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, to “demand answers”.
Coun Ruane adds in his statement: “We all know that the combined authority is the biggest smoke screen going, as we all continue to receive less funding from central government, but why should Coventry, Sandwell, Dudley, Birmingham, Walsall receive no funding from this grant, yet the shire counties do? Coventry gets zero, but wealthy Buckinghamshire is set to receive £4.6million.”
He goes on to say Coventry has faced the biggest cuts in local government history, and that by 2020 Coventry will have just half of the money it had to run services in 2010.
His broadside continues: “It is obvious that this Government has it in for Coventry, they’re (sic) latest wheeze on increasing the police precept and adding the Osborne Tax for social care will see council taxes rise in some cases by around 8%.”