THE WEST Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) is officially up and running.
As of today (June 17) the new regional body – formed of local authorities in Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton – has come into force after MPs and the Secretary of State signed off on plans to create the WMCA on Wednesday.
The latest development comes just weeks after all constituent members agreed to accept a controversial elected metro mayor to head up the new body.
Welcoming the advent of the WMCA, char of the WMCA shadow board and leader of Solihull Council, Coun Bob Sleigh described today as ‘the culmination of a lot of hard work and negotiation’ over the last 18 months.
He said: “It is the beginning of the process which brings together local authorities, businesses and other stakeholders and partners to collectively stimulate economic growth across the region and reform public services across the region.”
As part of a devolution deal from central Government, the region could be in line for an investment deal worth an estimated £8 million.
Alongside the delivery of specific housing and business funds, the deal could also see the creation of a new employment and skills service, the scrapping of the M6 Toll, greater support to those suffering from mental health problems, and smart ticketing technology, akin to London’s Oyster Cards, across the region’s transport.
But all this has come at a cost – the approval of an elected metro mayor to head-up the new authority in order to unlock the ‘full suite’ of powers promised by Chancellor George Osbourne.
He or she, 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.
They would also control a five year transport budget and be responsible for for integrating transport across the region, and driving up productivity and economic growth.
But the idea of a metro mayor has not been welcomed in Coventry and Birmingham – where voters rejected elected mayors in referendums and now feel ‘railroaded’ into accepting one by the Chancellor.
And with other local authorities from across the region, including Warwickshire and Stratford, seeking to join the WMCA as non-constituent members, the only thing left to negotiate is future devolution deals from Government.
Coun Sleigh added: “The first devolution agreement had been secured and now delivery can commence, with work on future devolution deals already in progress.
“The WMCA will lead the delivery of the devolution deal and future devolution deals.
“The Combined Authority will be the strong voice for the region; a voice that would be listened to in Whitehall and across the UK.
“A voice that will ensure this region is also heard on the global stage, attracting inward investment and selling our skills and expertise.”
A two-month consultation on the proposals is expected to begin in the coming weeks, with an election for the mayor on 4 May 2017.