Councils hoping to create the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) outlined plans to jointly tackle infrastructure, transport and boost economic growth this week.
In a document setting out how the authority would work, the WMCA councils vowed to ‘create the most effective combined authority in the country in order to propel our economy to further growth than can be achieved at present’.
The document outlined its key early priorities as developing an economic plan, accessing finance and a collective investment vehicle, resolving transport issues and developing a programme on skills.
Covering Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Wallsall and Wolverhampton local authorities and three Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) areas, the document sets out the international, national and local challenges ahead on skills, unemployment, public services and infrastructure.
The councils met on Monday to outline the plans, with the aim of establishing the authority by April 2016 after a consultation including the government.
The regional councils are in a position to work together to collectively to support a huge proportion of the workforce the document reveals: 'When the three LEP areas are considered as a combined area, the self-containment ratio [proportion of residents living and working in the area] rises to 90%.'
As part of meeting this challenge the document states: 'We have a strong track record of delivering transport investment into the area, but more is needed. Midlands Connect and the West Midlands Strategic Transport Plan are key initiatives which are creating options for investment in our network to radically improve connectivity, accessibility to HS2 and beyond, business efficiency and our built and natural environment.'
Leader of Coventry City Council, Ann Lucas, said: ‘By working together we can move powers from Whitehall to the West Midlands to improve performance across all these areas. And our proposed combined authority will make a huge contribution to building a wider Midlands engine in the heart of the country.
‘Since the general election in May there has been unprecedented collaboration between political colleagues in the West Midlands, as well as our LEP chairs and business leader, to establish this new partnership. Our aim is to consult and work with more partners across the private, public and third sector so that we can establish our combined authority in April next year.’
Cllr Bob Sleigh, leader of Solihull Council, said the combined authority provided a ‘unique opportunity’ for the region.
‘We recognise there is a £16bn output gap between the West Midlands and the national average. We generate around £4000 per person less in wealth than the national average and eliminating that gap is one of our key priorities moving forward,' he commented.
‘Last year the chancellor spoke about the need to rebalance the UK economy and now, collectively, we are responding in our own terms, through the creation of the West Midlands Combined Authority at the heart of a Midlands engine.’
Last week, one in five local authorities predicted they will become part of a new combined authority by 2020 according to a report by accountants PwC.