A CAMPAIGNER for a referendum which would enable Coventry people to decide on whether to join a combined authority with Birmingham and the Black Country has issued a rallying call to the public to sign a petition.
It comes after Coventry City Council’s ruling Labour cabinet – which favours the plan – voted last week to spend some of £250,000 of taxpayers money for the proposal on analysis of “whether or not a referendum is feasible”.
Lead referendum campaigner Rachael Bermingham, who spoke at the cabinet meeting, welcomed the concession, saying more than 3,700 petitioners so far and social media commments demonstrated the strength of public feeling.
But she warned the council’s feasibility study was only a start, and could result in a favoured conclusion that a referendum was not feasible.
She is now calling on more people to sign the petition before June 17, when the council next discusses the matter.
She said: “If everyone who’s signed the petition so far got another person to sign it, we would have more than 7,000 signatures, which would be a very powerful voice for such a short space of time.
“I’m delighted they recognise there is a body of opinion in Coventry that is not happy with decisions being made behind closed doors.
“We have a toe in the door but it’s not an open door, and they are not very willing. Let’s push that door open.”
Chancellor George Osborne was in the Midlands yesterday to pledge the government would devolve powers to a “Midlands engine for growth “, and he urged councils to join forces. He said it was for “local communities to decide”.
But he re-iterated his message that a combined authority must be headed by an elected mayor – a so-called ‘metro mayor’ – to get the “full suite of devolved powers” handed down from Westminster.
Coventry voters in 2012 voted two-to-one against having an elected mayor to lead Coventry City Council when its Labour leaders campaigned against, claiming elected mayors were less democratic.
Despite Mr Osborne’s repeated and clear position, leading Labour councillors including Kevin Maton says councils would negotiate with the government for full powers to be granted to a combined authority without a metro mayor.
A mayor would hold decision-making powers over the combined authority and chair it. The combined authority would comprise one councillor from each participating local council.
The proposed powers – granting regions some powers to decide how to spend money and shape policy – could include police and health responsibilities in addition to transport and regeneration.
They would stop well short of full tax-raising powers, and Westminster would continue to control the purse-strings of local government.
The council’s cabinet last week voted to: “Agree in principle to create a combined authority with a preferred option of councils from Coventry and Warwickshire (and Hinckley and Bosworth) with councils from the Greater Birmingham and Solihull and the Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) areas.”
The council’s Conservative opposition is against the proposal, claiming Coventry should instead solely develop its existing links with Warwickshire councils, with Coventry heading its own ‘city region’ lobbying government for powers.
Coventry council’s Labour leader Ann Lucas believes it would lack the clout of a much larger West Midlands combined authority.
Sign the petition here…