COVENTRY’S Conservatives have today pledged to give people a referendum over whether to leave a future West Midlands Combined Authority – if the Tories regain control of the city council.
They also say Coventry council’s leaders are failing in a costly public consultation to properly present alternatives to joining a combined authority with Birmingham, Solihull and black country councils.
The Conservative opposition at Labour-run Coventry City Council released a statement today setting out what could be an alternative arrangement with Warwickshire – as council leaders are pressing ahead towards establishing the West Midlands Combined Authority next April.
It comes as the Coventry Observer has been scrutinising how the public consultation and other measures are being handled – costing city taxpayers up to £250,000.
The public consultation was approved by Labour councillors in June when it rejected a then 3000-name petition calling for a referendum, which would have allowed Coventry voters to decide.
West MIdlands’ council leaders have not ruled out agreeing to Conservative chancellor George Osborne’s demand that in return for all possible new spending powers, the combined authority must be headed by an elected mayor – even though council elected mayors were rejected by two-thirds of Coventry referendum voters in 2012.
The public consultation has included a series of public meetings and a ‘Citizen’s Panel’ on September 9, as we reported in detail yesterday.
Opponents including lead petitioner Rachael Bermingham and Tory group leader John Blundell have said the public consultation is widely viewed by Coventry people as a waste of city taxpayers’ money on a “fait accompli”.
Labour council leaders including councillors Ann Lucas and Kevin Maton have repeatedly expressed their determination to persaude the public that a combined authority must be set up.
A “combined authority shadow board” has now been established without Warwickshire councils’ inclusion.
Leading Labour councillors have also sought to portray much public opposition as misinformed, blaming the media.
The Tories’ statement today reads:
“Currently a consultation exercise is being done by Coventry City Council with regard to joining Birmingham, Solihull and the Black Country in a Combined Authority (CA). However, no other options are being offered and this is where the consultation is fundamentally flawed.
So what are the real alternatives and the arrangements to support them?
Coventry standing alone – this is the status-quo, but an option that cannot be supported on grounds of size, economics or what else is happening in other authorities. The Government’s agenda, supported by the Opposition, is in order to secure funding for large projects, authorities must work together.
Coventry and Warwickshire in a combined authority -This is an option which makes the most sense in both economic terms and popular appeal. It would present a CA with over 900,000 in population, a size range large enough to pass the Government litmus test and be popular with residents. We have two highly ranked universities, significant businesses such as JLR and all this is supported by the economic geography and travel to work areas.
Coventry in a West Midlands CA without Warwickshire – although this is the path that Coventry City Council is going down at the moment, this really does leave Coventry out in the cold. This would follow the same geography as the old West Midlands County Council. It would leave Coventry without its important county neighbour, Warwickshire, and would concentrate power towards the centre. Also, when a metro mayor is appointed or elected, it is likely to come from the Birmingham area.
The position of Coventry Conservatives
Our position is that we should pursue option 2, above, and secure Coventry and Warwickshire in a CA. This, we believe, would be the most beneficial in terms of geography and is the overwhelming choice of residents.
Coventry Conservative Pledge
If Coventry becomes part of a West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), as is currently proposed, then we will allow the citizens of Coventry to decide whether it should remain in or come out by holding a referendum and giving local people the chance to have a vote.”
A sceptical Tory-run Warwickshire County Council in a crucial council meeting next week will decide whether or not to join the West Midlands Combined Authority.
Coun Lucas said this week that “of course” she would like Tory-run Warwickshire to join.
Labour city councillors in June pushed through an “in principle” decision to join a combined authority pending further discussions with other councils including Warwickshire councils, and the government.
Labour councillors insist they are conducting and have commissioned a wide ranging public consultation which explores all views.
The Citizens’ Panel organisers, the independent Democratic Society, say the same about its forthcoming event.