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17.11.15

West Midlands bags largest devolution yet in major £1bn deal

The West Midlands has become the first region outside the north of England to sign a devolution deal including a metro-mayor, as it agreed to a major £1bn package today (17 November).

Members of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) shadow board met with the chancellor in Coventry to close the deal, which, like most others, will include a metro-mayor by 2017.

The region will work together across an area that runs from Telford and Wolverhampton in the west to Coventry and Nuneaton in the east, and from Tamworth in the north to Redditch in the south.

The agreement comes as part of a the recent devolution momentum across the country, with deals already signed in Greater Manchester, Sheffield, the North East, Tees Valley and Cornwall.

It also came on the same day as a £900m deal was signed in Liverpool.

Cllr Bob Sleigh, chair of the shadow board, said: “This is a historic moment for the West Midlands. We have moved incredibly quickly to create the partnership between the seven metropolitan councils and our three LEPS, and we are delighted the government has recognised this and has rewarded our ambition with the biggest investment package in the country.

“We are committed to building on our strengths, including our experts and our inward investment, and to working towards increasing the £80bn that the region currently contributes to the UK economy.”

The proposed deal must now be agreed by each individual authority in the region.

Chancellor George Osborne also used the opportunity to highlight the Midlands Engine initiative after so much focus on the Northern Powerhouse: “We want to make the Midlands Britain’s engine for growth, and this deal will give the region the powerful levers it needs to make that happen.

“We have worked with council leaders across the party divide, and today we are announcing a collaborative way of working that would not have been countenanced in this region even just a few years ago.”

Devolution package

The region is set to receive the largest devolution deal yet, with £1bn devolved over 30 years in equal £36.5m allocations each year. This ultimately undermines Sheffield City Region’s assertion that nowhere would get a better devolution package than it did.

Similarly to other devolution deals, the new mayor will take the reins of local transport budgets and franchised bus services, as well as boost employment support and skills provision.

Within transport, the mayor, who will also sit as combined authority chair, will support the region’s delivery of smart and integrated ticketing across all constituent councils.

The mayor will also develop a new key route network of local authority roads that will be managed and maintained at the Metropolitan level by the WMCA, as well as develop the second Roads Investment Strategy to reduce network congestion.

Whitehall has also backed other transport ambitions for the region including funding the Curzon Street Enterprise Zone extension and funding the Metro extension to Eastside, subject to a business case.

Metro extensions from Curzon to Interchange and Brierley Hill, for which the region must develop a delivery plan, will help “realise the full benefits” of HS2.

West Midlands will also be also be tasked with supporting other ambitions of the HS2 Growth Strategy and the emerging West Midlands Strategic Transport Plan.

A multi-year settlement for the transport budget will be consolidated at next week’s Spending Review.

Specifically to local government, Whitehall will support a programme of public service reform across the area, including working with the region to consider further devolution of youth justice services.

Elsewhere, the mayor will be able to drive up housing and improvement in housing stock, given the same competencies as the Homes and Communities Agency. Central government will also work with the WMCA Land Commission.

Like with other deals, the mayor will chair an area-based review of 16+ skills provision and devolved 19+ adult skills funding from 2018-19, as well as have joint responsibility with Whitehall to co-design employment support for the ‘harder-to-help’ claimants.

Lastly, central government and the WMCA will develop and deliver business support programmes from 2017, as well as explore a more integrated approach to working on investment and trade.

Additional powers may be agreed over time and included in future legislation.

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