WARWICKSHIRE police and crime commissioner Ron Ball has today said proposals for a West Midlands Combined Authority “lack clarity” and raise “significant questions over the implications for policing” in the county.
It comes as Conservative-run Warwickshire County Council is tomorrow set to raise similar concerns and vote in favour of a preferred option of a Coventry and Warwickshire combined authority – rather than joining the West Midlands model to which Coventry’s Labour leaders are committed.
Warwickshire’s Liberal Democrats have also attacked the proposals as vague and the county’s Greens are sceptical, while it is understood the county’s Labour group may call on county Tory leaders to re-think if the West Midlands Combined Authority is the only real option.
Coventry City Council leaders have ‘in principle’ decided to work towards joining the WMCA with Solihull, Birmingham and black country councils, and say they would favour Warwickshire also joining.
It is understood the leaders of the seven Metropolitican authorities are this week submitting detailed proposals to chancellor George Osborne for what spending powers they seek for the WMCA – with or without an elected mayor which Mr Osborne insists upon if regions are to receive the “full suite of powers”.
Such powers on offer could include powers over housing, transport, economic development, the NHS and policing.
The powers of the police and crime commissioner could be merged into an elected “metro mayor” role at some combined authorities.
Mr Ball described the process as “rushed” and criticised the lack of consultation with the public or other partner organisations.
He said: “Such fundamental changes to democratic arrangements should not be carried out with undue haste and I am concerned that these proposals, despite not being mentioned in the Government manifesto, are gaining a significant head of steam despite the many question marks surrounding them.”
Coventry and Birmingham voters in referenda in 2012 voted against having council elected mayors. A petition calling for Coventry people to decide in a new referendum whether to join WMCA was rejected by Coventry Labour leaders.
Mr Ball continued: “As commissioner, I work very closely with the county, districts and boroughs, so any proposed change to their makeup is very significant to me.
“The discussions over the creation of a new West Midlands Combined Authority raise a number of concerns, regardless of whether councils within Warwickshire decide to opt in or out of such an arrangement.
“There is a considerable lack of clarity on key areas and there is a great deal of confusion – what is being proposed seems to change on an almost daily basis.
“My concern is primarily for the effect the creation of such a body would have on policing. If, as seems to be a possibility, a combined authority or a ‘Metro Mayor’ assumes the responsibility for police oversight and governance currently held by police and crime commissioners, how would this work in practice?
“What are the implications for the criminal justice system locally? No one can give a definitive answer.
“If the Warwickshire councils decide to join the West Midlands Combined Authority, the questions over policing governance remain, given that the area would still be served by two forces.
“West Midlands Police and Warwickshire Police have very different policing cultures, borne out of the differences between policing metropolitan and more rural areas, and also have significantly different precepts. How could this be managed? “Equally, how could the residents of Warwickshire be assured of their fair share of resources and democratic say against such a metropolitan bias? Again, no answers appear to be forthcoming.
“I am pleased to hear today of clarification of Stratford District Council’s decision to take an “observer” role rather than membership of the West Midlands Combined Authority while continuing to investigate other options, which does seem to be a far more pragmatic approach.
“While I do favour exploring options with Coventry City Council – which would seem to be a much better fit than the West Midland Combined Authority – there needs to be much greater dialogue going forward.
“To date there has been no consultation with PCCs over the current proposals and neither has the public been able to have any significant say. They must be given a voice and offered meaningful information about the consequences of such a change.”