I’ve done a couple of interviews this week about plans to bring together councils in the Black Country and the wider West Midlands – a combined authority.
Put simply, a combined authority would bring leaders from neighbouring councils together to deal with the issues that affect us all – like transport, housing, the local economy and tourism.
UPDATE: Happy to announce we’re going ahead with this, read more about it.
It would give us major decision-making powers at a local level and more influence over how money is spent.
So instead of getting the crumbs from the table when the Chancellor makes an announcement, we would be able to make decisions locally and more democratically – through councillors elected by their communities.
Some people have asked me if it means councils will cease to exist, leaving us with one big authority representing all of the councils who join. The simple answer is no – it just means our councils working more closely together.
Another thing that seems to concern people when we talk about combined authorities is communities losing their identity.
But I can assure everyone that their areas will keep their identities, their councils and their local governance arrangements.
Whether you’re from Smethwick or Willenhall, Tettenhall or Sedgley – that’s where you’ll still be from.
The four Black Country councils are already working very closely on important issues affecting us all.
So far we’ve secured £12million for high-speed broadband, attracted Jaguar Land Rover to Wolverhampton (meaning more business for automotive firms in Sandwell and across the Black Country) and benefited from £7.6million in Growing Priority Sectors funding which has safeguarded hundreds of jobs.
Has anyone lost their identity? No. It’s simply about working together and working smarter on the issues that affect all West Midlands councils.
In terms of a wider combined authority, I’ve had informal talks with council leaders outside the Black Country. No decisions have been made at the moment, but we’ve asked Birmingham and other councils to join us.
As for what our combined authority would be called – you may have heard Greater Birmingham mentioned.
I’m not in favour of calling it Greater Birmingham. I think the idea for this has been lifted and shifted from Manchester and won’t necessarily work for us. People in the Black Country certainly don’t consider themselves to be from Birmingham.
Depending on which councils join, I’d like to see it called the West Midlands Combined Authority. I think everyone in the region would be able to relate to that.
The way I look at it, businesses don’t see boundaries, they see the economic opportunities the Black Country and the wider area provides.
We need to think like these businesses – and it makes sense that as councils we do this together.