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06.07.15

West Midlands combined authority bid officially launched

A bid to create a West Midlands Combined Authority (WCMA) by April 2016, which has ambitious plans to save £35m a year in benefits, has officially been launched by seven metropolitan councils. 

Within the ‘WCMA Growing the UK Economy Through a Midlands Engine’ document, the leaders of each local authority – Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, and Walsall MBCs, and Birmingham, Coventry, and Wolverhampton city council – said they are committed to a combined authority. 

However, they also agree that a combined authority could cover a much wider geography, which could involve 13 more councils joining WMCA. “Currently District and County Councils are actively engaged in a dialogue around the creation of the West Midlands Combined Authority and are still working through the implications of joining,” they said. 

The WMCA has identified five early delivery priorities:

  • Developing an overarching Strategic Economic Plan for the West Midlands
  • Access to a Finance and Collective Investment Vehicle
  • Getting the transport offer right for the long term
  • Creation of an economic policy and intelligence capacity
  • A joint programme on skills

The chairs of the Black Country, Coventry and Warwickshire and Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) welcomed the Statement of Intent to create a Combined Authority “embracing our collective LEP areas”. 

“We recognise that this is an important step to enabling further economic growth at a faster pace for our areas whilst undertaking necessary public sector reform and, in due course, achieving further devolved powers from Government,” they added. 

As part of the WMCA there are plans to set up three commissions – The West Midlands Productivity Commission, The West Midlands Land Commission and The West Midlands Commission on Mental Health and Public Services – to drive forward the 'West Midlands Engine' – a phrase coined by the chancellor George Osborne to reflect growth in manufacturing and other trades. 

The West Midlands Productivity Commission will try to address the lack of investment in businesses' plant and machinery as well as public infrastructure, insufficient spending on research and development, and low skills levels across the workforce. 

The West Midlands Land Commission will look into ensuring that the supply of development sites can meet demand, and how brownfield land can be brought back into use. The West Midlands Commission on Mental Health and Public Services will look at how services in the area, which have not been a high priority for the NHS, can be improved. 

On top of this, the WMCA aims to reduce the benefits burden in the region. The document said: “The skills deficit across the region is reflected in the high level of unemployment (9.3%) across the seven metropolitan authorities. If unemployment across the West Midlands was to fall to match the England average there would be some 14,500 less claimants resulting in a saving in excess of £35m per annum in benefit spending." 

PSE’s Sam Caffrey recently spoke to Cllr Pete Lowe, leader of Dudley council, about the plans for a combined authority in the region. 

He said: “What we want is to be as influential – and have the biggest impact – as we possibly can. We see ourselves in the Midlands as being a significant powerhouse – certainly in line if not bigger than any of the authorities that have gone down the combined route previously.” 

Following today’s launch, Sandwell Council leader Darren Cooper said: "There is still a lot more work to be done but we have come a very long way in six months." 

Business secretary Sajid Javid added that he welcomed the ambition shown by the new West Midlands Combined Authority and will back them in their mission to drive forward the Midlands Engine. “This is a great opportunity to help increase security and opportunity for working people across the West Midlands, and I look forward to supporting local communities and businesses to help achieve this.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@publicsectorexecutive.com 

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