• Monday , 20 February 2017

Joining forces – why we need to unite the West Midlands

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.Darren Cooper regeneration
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.

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Comments
  • Jan Britton November 5, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    I think this is a really interesting post. A combined authority is not a threat to the identity of individual councils or communities. Like all families we will be stronger and better able to grow the economy regional and create jobs if we work together – and neither of these things are based on council boundaries.

  • M. W. Jones November 5, 2014 at 9:53 pm

    Central Government is presently advocating the devolution of certain powers, to Local Authorities.
    Why, then are the Councillors of Sandwell, urging us to accept that Sandwell, is amalgamated with other Local Authorities, in order to become a larger, more powerful conglomerate ?
    We, the electorate, should be given a vote on ANY decision to amalgamate with ANY other Local Authority.
    Having seen the mistakes that our Councillors have made in the past, i.e., the decision to push ahead with projects the likes of “The Public”, in SPITE of the fact that there was major opposition to this from the public, and the amount of Rate Payers’ money that was consequently poured into the puerile attempts by Sandwell Council, to “make a success of it”, then how can you expect us to accept that this proposed amalgamation of Local Authorities, is going to do anything at ALL to improve the situation for the people of the Boroughs involved ?
    Moreover, I would say that a vote on this move would be essential, in light of the fact that, an ever increasing number of the electorate, are fast becoming disillusioned with ALL Government Officers, from Local Councillors, right up to the Prime Minister, due to their almost complete lack of action to improve the situation in respect of one of the biggest blights to affect us since the end of the last war, that of immigration, and the constant refusal to allow us a referendum on E.U. membership, etc., and are becoming highly suspicious of any changes to the way we are governed, as these schemes have so often, been nothing more, than an attempt at “personal Empire Building”, by those that commend the change.
    At the end of the day, if the people of Sandwell, wanted to be ruled by Birmingham Council, then they would move to the Birmingham area, if they wanted to be ruled by Walsall Council, then they would move to Walsall area, if they wanted to be ruled by Wolverhampton, (God forbid), they would move to Wolverhampton, see the trend emerging ??? We don’t NEED to amalgamate with ANY other Authority.
    Anyone old enough to remember the old Warley Borough Council, being swallowed up by West Bromwich Council, and becoming the “Grand Borough of West Bromwich”, (Laughingly known as Sandwell), will remember the years of neglect for all areas of the new Borough, in favour of the “old” area of West Bromwich, and the consequent campaign to “put Sandwell, on the map”. Even TODAY, there are very few people in this country, that have ever even heard of “Sandwell”, but they all know where West Bromwich, is.
    If a vote should be allowed, giving us a CHOICE, on amalgamating with other Council, I am sure you will see a GREAT amount of opposition to the proposal, due, purely and simply, to the fact that, most of the people of Sandwell, see themselves as being from the “Black Country”, and do NOT wish to be “lumped in” with any OTHER Authority, that CLAIM they will act on our behalf. We have ALL seen that promise made, and broken, far too many times to fall for it yet again.
    What it all boils down to, is one simple question : If the Councillors, elected by the Rate Payers of the Borough, do not feel that they are capable of “fighting our corner”, without help from OTHER Local Authorities, then why the Hell did they stand for election in the FIRST place ?
    STAY AS WE ARE !!!!!

    If my comment is deleted, or I am banned from making any future comments or receiving future posts, I will fully understand, as Sandwell Council, are WELL KNOWN for their Democratic approach to critical debate on their Policies.

    Yours,
    M. W. Jones,
    Ex-employee,
    and Life long Rate Payer.

  • Bob Piper November 6, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    Absolutely spot on, Darren. There has always been a requirement for councils to work together on issues like transport (roads don’t stop at the border of towns) planning and economic regeneration. What I suspect people don’t want is a so-called regional Mayor taking decisions with a host of unelected unaccountable quangos. Just being able to talk to elites may be an attractive proposition to Westminster and Whitehall…but I bet they don’t give us a referendum on that ridiculous idea, because they know people don’t want it!

  • Pete Durnell November 7, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    Dear Mr Cooper,

    I find it extremely curious that Council leaders suddenly feel that they can’t work together without ‘creating a new board’, and/or that government can’t simply devolve powers and finance down through the existing local government structures,

    – however, ‘Good News’ !

    I have a really great suggestion for a name for the new extra level of government/quango being formed, which I’m sure you will love, it’s :

    ‘European Region G3’

    – has a real ‘ring to it’ don’t you think ?

    PS A really interesting post from Mr Piper, who is apparently very much against ‘a host of unelected, unaccountable’ quangos, yet is all in favour of the new ‘European Region G3’, initially at least, probably to be called the ‘West Midlands Combined Authority’,

    – despite the fact that, as has been already clearly stated, it will include:

    “chairs of the Local Enterprise Partnerships and key talents in our geographical area”,

    – ‘chairs of the Local Enterprise Partnership’ – I believe are generally not elected ?

    – ‘key talents in our geographical area’ – presumably also largely not usually elected ?

    As the formation of this new body is being ‘stream-rollered through’ without any voter consultation whatsoever, and once in place, will presumably continue along its ‘merry way’, in the same, undemocratic manner,

    – perhaps someone would be kind enough to explain how the new ‘European Region G3’, sorry, ‘West Midland Combined Authority is :

    i) Not, by any reasonable definition, ‘a new quango’

    and

    ii) In exactly what ways it will be ‘accountable’, i.e. how electors will be able to remove someone from it, should they feel that they’re not doing a good job ?

    I look forward to your reply with great interest.

    Kind Regards,

    Pete Durnell

  • Thomas Arbinger November 7, 2014 at 10:56 pm

    This is not before time but surely the way to market our area should be under the Greater Birmingham banner. It is after all, the ‘Birmingham city region’ and the name Birmingham is known world-wide. As a Black Country man, I for one can see the logic in that.

    The term West Midlands applies to our wider rural region of Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire. You cannot have two ‘West Midlands’. It is ambiguous, illogical and puzzling to promote that name around Europe and the world.

  • Darren Cooper November 8, 2014 at 8:32 am

    I don’t think you have really read the article Mr Jones. There won’t be any as you put it “amalgamation” of any Councils under these proposals. The rest of your comment I’ll leave people to make up there own minds.

  • Darren Cooper November 8, 2014 at 8:50 am

    Thank you for your comment. The problem we have is the red herring which is the brand name. People have an identity so we have to find something that people can sign up to, have owernership of, and hopefully be come proud of. I take your point however about the West Mids term and that’s why I hope other such has the council”s you have mentioned join us. However we have made a start.

  • M. W. Jones November 10, 2014 at 7:39 pm

    Thank you so much for your reply to my comment, Mr. Cooper, but you have not answered my question as to the possibility of the PEOPLE of Sandwell, being given a vote on the subject. Or is it the case that we are not deemed to be intelligent enough to hold a valid opinion ?? (By the way, I think the word you were looking for in your reply, was “THEIR”, rather than “there own minds).
    Also, if we are not “amalgamating with any other Borough”, then why do we need a new name ? And would any money “we” may secure from Central Government, be divided equally, by individual size of the component Boroughs, or by number of population, etc. ?
    I apologise for taking up your valuable time, but I really do think that these issues are of very high importance to the people whose support you are attempting to secure.

  • Darren Cooper November 10, 2014 at 8:53 pm

    Mr Jones, my apologies for my poor grammar in this instance the auto spell kicked in. I don’t think its about intelligence or lack of. Councillors on Sandwell council have already been elected to make and take decisions on behalf of local people, and voters will have the opportunity to do so again, next May at both the Local and general election. We have been elected to do a job on behalf of local people and they have a democratic right to remove us at the election if they don’t feel we have done so. It would be an impossible state of affairs to keep running back to the voters every time we made a decision. The proposed changes, which do not merge or combine our Council in any way, shape or form with anyone else, does not require a mandate from voters. This is simply about Council’s working more closely together at a political level, with local business. I am sure you would agree with that approach!
    The name is about representing our region to the wider world as a group of local authorities to attract investment, jobs and business into our area. We also need to join up, much better than we have previously done, our transport strategy. We know how great we are, but people from outside of the Black Country frankly don’t. Any extra investment from Government will of course benefit us all. I hope that’s helpful.

  • Darren Cooper November 11, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    Mr Durnell I understand you are a Perspective Parliamentary candidate for Warley for one of the political party’s. This is not a political blog so I am unable to answer your questions.

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