COVENTRY residents are being invited to have their say in public meetings about the city joining Birmingham and the Black Country in a combined authority.
It comes after Coventry City Council ruled out holding a referendum which would let people decide, after more than 4,000 people signed petitions demanding one – amid widespread public concern that Coventry would end up playing second fiddle to its larger neighbours or lose its identity.
Chancellor George Osborne has said to win the full suite of spending powers offered for jobs and transport from the government, the West Midlands’ combined authority would need to have a controversial elected mayor – a system rejected by both Coventry and Birmingham voters for councils in referenda three years ago.
Labour council leaders have vowed they will listen to people’s views in the public forums starting this week and they have also set up a ‘Citizen’s Panel’ to explore the issues. They believe they can persuade Coventrians the city should join the combined authority.
The council’s Tory group would prefer a combined authority with Warwickshire County Council and the county’s district councils, and possibly councils in Leicestershire.
Coventry council’s ruling Labour leaders say they hope to persuade sceptical Warwickshire councils to join.
The forums open to all residents begin tomorrow (July 2) and will run through July across Coventry’s 18 wards. Councillors, council officials and other key organisations will be present.
Council Leader Cllr Ann Lucas said “We know from the media coverage and what residents have been telling us that there’s a lot of interest in combined authorities.
“People have been asking me if it means we merge with Birmingham or lose any of our powers as a council, which absolutely isn’t the case.
“So it’s really important we explain to people what this is really about – moving power from Whitehall to the West Midlands, not from Coventry to Birmingham.”
Those claims are disputed by opponents who claim a “Birmingham-centric” elected mayor could yield disproportionate power over a Birmingham-centric combined authority, and that some powers would be transfered from the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership and existing regional bodies.
For more information, go to.. www.coventry.gov.uk/combinedauthority
Full list of dates and times for forums:
Bablake 7pm Thursday 16 July
Binley and Willenhall 7pm Tuesday 21 July
Cheylesmore 7pm Tuesday 28 July
Earlsdon 7pm Thursday 16 July
Foleshill 7pm Thursday 23 July
Henley 7pm Wednesday 22 July
Holbrook 7pm Thursday 16 July
Longford 7pm Wednesday 15 July
Lower Stoke 7pm Thursday 30 July
Radford 7pm Tuesday 28 July
Sherbourne 7pm Tuesday 28 July
St Michael’s 6pm Wednesday 22 July
Upper Stoke 6.30pm Tuesday 28 July
Wainbody 7pm Wednesday 15 July
Westwood 7pm Tuesday 21 July
Whoberley 7pm Thursday 2 July
Woodlands 7pm Thursday 23 July
Wyken 7pm Thursday 16 July