CONFIDENTIAL plans for the future of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) have been leaked.
The Draft West Midlands Agreement, which was set to be used as a negotiation tool with Government, details what powers the new authority – formed of Solihull, Coventry, Birmingham and Black Country local authorities – would seek to wrestle from Westminster.
But, the plans also reveal that the Authority Shadow Board, which drew up the document, is envisioning the WMCA to be run by an elected metro mayor in order to qualify for the ‘full suite of powers’ offered by Chancellor George Osborne.
The revelation has angered many local people who feel ‘railroaded’ into accepting one despite Coventry City Council arguing they were committed to keeping an ‘open mind on the issue’ throughout negotiations with the Government.
The move also follows the Council’s own Labour leaders campaigning against having an elected mayor to lead the council in a 2012 referendum which saw two-thirds of Coventry voters also say ‘No’ to the idea.
The draft also states that this elected mayor – who would most-likely be from Birmingham or Solihull given their strength and position in the proposed new authority – would have the ability to affect local council taxes by imposing precepts to raise money for services in the new region, and be able to grant tax exemptions and discounts in order to support millions of pounds worth of development.
The mayor would also be granted powers to levy a Supplementary Business Rate on businesses – without the requirement for a referendum.
Talks would table plans for smart ticketing and technology, akin to London’s Oyster Cards, across the region, and would grant the Combined Authority (CA) control over Birmingham Airport’s Air Passenger Duty (APD) and the ability to invest it in growth of local economy and connections with overseas markets.
The document also reveals the WMCA will campaign for Government to devolve more powers to the country’s regions in its upcoming Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill – proposing amendments to grant greater ‘fiscal flexibility to individual councils’.
Other plans which could be up for consideration include scrapping the M6 toll and establishing a new employment service to improve the skills of local people and support them into local jobs.
In return for these devolved powers from Westminster, the CA would look to form an £8 billion West Midlands Investment Programme to deliver specific housing and business funds.
The document also details plans for a new National Innovation Centre and potential for the National Art Collection to be relocated to the region.
There is also the suggestion that the Government could support a city in the region’s bid to host the World Expo 2015 – which could attract 25 million visitors spending and estimated £5.6 billion to local communities.
Unable to discuss the leaked confidential plans in detail, Chair of the WMCA Shadow Board and Leader of Solihull Council, Coun Bob Sleigh, said they followed on from the plans for the CA which were laid out in July’s Statement of Intent.
He added: “Our leaked devolution submission bid reflects those ambitions as a starting point for negotiations with government.
“We are working collaboratively and across the three LEP geography to draw down powers from Whitehall to the West Midlands, so that we can get the best deal that will see an increase in income and productivity for the region and benefit businesses and households throughout the CA area.”
Here is a list of powers which the WMCA and its potential future metro mayor will seek to wrestle from Government.
Powers to be devolved directly to the elected mayor:
- To be chair of the WMCA
- Powers over a ten year Transport Investment Fund to control strategy and investment in the area’s transport – including highways, rail and bus networks and smart ticketing.
- To be able to set a precepts and discounts on local residents’ council tax bills
- The ability to set a Supplementary Business Rate levy on local businesses.
Powers devolved to the WMCA with elected mayor as chair:
- Freedom to control Youth Offending Services.
- Access to national data to develop ‘Troubled Individuals’ programme.
- Control of Air Passenger Duty (APD) at Birmingham Airport.
Powers devolved to the WMCA without elected mayor, but exercised with Joint Committee of district councils:
- Control over HS2 Growth Strategy.
- Power to retain all business rate growth to distribute locally.
- Ability to control land development funding, create local enterprise zones, and prioritise business rate investment.
- Control over £500 million housing fund.
- Devolved Adult Skills and Careers budgets
- Control over business support and inward investment.
- Ability to commission support to arts, culture and visitor economy.
Extra topics the WMCA will discuss with Government:
- A World Expo bid for 2025.
- Establishment of a National Innovation Centre.
- Relocating National Art Collections to the region.
- Control over police, fire and rescue services.
- Reforms to criminal justice and offender management systems.
- Amendments to the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill – allowing greater flexibility in setting council tax.
- Potential for EU funding.