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22.11.17

Second devo deal for West Midlands approved as more finally on the way

The government has agreed a second devolution deal “in principle” with the West Midlands mayor and combined authority to address local productivity barriers, and has also committed to looking into further devo deals across the country.

Delivering his much-anticipated Autumn Statement today, chancellor Philip Hammond said the second West Midlands deal, which has been considered for some time, will include £6m for a housing delivery taskforce, £5m for a construction skills training scheme and a £250m allocation from the previously announced Transforming Cities fund to spend on local intra-city transport priorities.

Mayor Andy Street said the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) was delighted with the news, which he believes “reflects the government’s confidence in our ambitions and ability to deliver for the region.”

“This second devolution deal is another important step in empowering our region, giving us more tools to create and sustain growth that everyone can access and benefit from,” he added. “It is also the result of the commitment of all members of the WMCA to work together for the good of the whole region.”

Details of the deal include a £250m transport infrastructure package to extend Midland Metro; the establishment of Skills Advisory Panels to invest in labour markets; a proposal to merge the role of the mayor with that of the Police and Crime Commissioner in time for the 2020 elections; the creation of a digital hub in Birmingham; approval for the Housing First pilot; and funding to develop a business case to create a Regional Integrated Control Centre to improve resilience on the road, rail and tram networks, amongst others.

Full details of the deal can be viewed here.

Elsewhere in the Midlands, the government will support the delivery of the Midlands Connect strategy by providing £2m to develop options to address key constraints on the Coventry-Leamington rail corridor and £4m for congestion measures.

Cllr Izzi Seccombe, WMCA's finance portfolio lead, argued that the overall Budget was a “sign of good things to come” for the region, with references in the chancellor's speech suggesting funding initiatives of up to £250m.

“This is a clear signal of the positive work that the combined authority can deliver to make a difference to the people who live and work in the West Midlands,” she said. “The specific investment into skills and housing highlights the commitment we share with the government to support job creation, skills improvement and new home building.”

As well as this, the government has agreed a “minded to” devolution deal with the North of Tyne authorities, although this will still be subject to the consent of local partners. In principle, the agreement will see a £600m investment in the region over 30 years with the support of a mayor, to be elected in 2019, who will have powers over “important economic levers” such as planning and skills.

The Treasury and the DCLG have also committed to enter into discussions with the Liverpool City Region and Tees Valley to explore the scope for further devolution to these areas, building on the deals already established.

‘Devolution delight’: more deals needed

The LGA welcomed the announcement of the first devolution deal in 20 months, particularly after concerns that the government had been stalling on its devolution promise.

The chairman of the association’s People and Places Board, Cllr Mark Hawthorne, said the move was “encouraging” and would benefit residents in the North of Tyne and West Midlands regions – but emphasised that “many more such deals are needed to reverse the growing sense of stalled progress and missed opportunities across much of the country.”

“Councils want their residents to be able to enjoy ‘devolution delight’ rather than suffer ‘devolution deadlock’,” he added. “The longer it takes to secure new devolution deals, the longer communities will have to wait to benefit from the opportunities currently available to areas where devolution has taken place.

“Government needs to engage in an honest and open debate about the best form of governance able to foster thriving local economies across the country, including non-metropolitan areas, to ensure that opportunities for inclusive growth are not lost. This would be aided by providing further detail on the proposal for a common devolution framework, as contained in the Conservative manifesto, as soon as possible.

“We also ask that in order to have a clearer account of progress to date, that the annual devolution report is published.”

In Greater Manchester, although no second deal is yet on the cards, the government will work in partnership with the region to develop a local industrial strategy.

This will be backed by a £243m allocation taken from the Transforming Cities fund, although options for the future of the region beyond the fund will be considered alongside Transport for Greater Manchester, including land value capture.

Further up north, Hammond confirmed that his government “continues to make good progress” towards a city deal for Stirling and is in negotiations for a Tay cities agreement.

It is also beginning negotiations on a growth deal for the Borderlands with the Scottish Government and local partners.

(Top image c. Richard Gray, EMPICS Entertainment)

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