A £350 million deal to create jobs and economic growth in Birmingham, Solihull and the surrounding area could be just the start, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said.
But, welcoming proposals for a West Midlands combined authority, he said councils would need to embrace change if they hoped to win further funding and devolution packages.
Mr Clegg also insisted it was not Government policy to require combined authorities to create directly-elected mayors – describing this as a “personal view” of Chancellor George Osborne, who has previously appeared to suggest that only combined authorities with mayors will be offered major investment schemes in future.
He was speaking on the eve of a visit to Birmingham to sign a “Local Growth Deal” for the area covered by Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership, which also includes parts of Worcestershire and Staffordshire.
The deal, announced last year, is expected to help to deliver at least 13,000 jobs, allow up to 4,000 homes to be built and provide training for 7,633 people by 2021, as well as generating up to £80 million in public and private investment.
Key features include:
* Station improvements at Birmingham’s Snow Hill station , major maintenance of the Tame Valley Viaduct, phase two of the Hoobrook Link Road to improve accessibility of the South Kidderminster Enterprise Park, a growth and regeneration programme in East Staffordshire and the mid-Cannock road/rail freight interchange.
* Maximising the benefits of the planned HS2 high speed rail line including station improvements between New Street and Moor Street stations in Birmingham, extensions of the Midland Metro , a Bus Rapid Transit scheme from Birmingham city centre to Quinton and walking and cycling improvements in Birmingham city centre.
* Backing businesses including new courses to improve skills in the automotive supply chain and life sciences sector, a Solihull Aviation Engineering Training Centre to develop maintenance and repair skills, a food technology centre at Birmingham Metropolitan College , the Centre of Excellence for Advanced Technologies also at Birmingham Metropolitan College, the Advanced Manufacturing Hub in Aston and a Life Sciences Campus in Edgbaston .
Sir Albert Bore, leader of Birmingham City Council, said: “This is great news for Birmingham and a clear vote of confidence in our regeneration agenda. The announcements in this Growth Deal will help kick-start a range of major projects that will support the delivery of an improved transport system for the city and help us maximise the impact of the plans we have in place for the city centre HS2 terminus.
“What with major infrastructure projects like New Street Station and the Metro extension also set to complete this year it is clear that the city is developing for itself an exciting future as a leading place to do business and in which to invest.”
But the deal could be just the beginning of a wave of investment, the Deputy Prime Minister said.
Speaking to the Birmingham Post at Westminster, he said: “It will be yet another big staging post in more decisions being made in the West Midlands rather than being taken in Whitehall.”
He welcomed ongoing talks on creating a combined authority involving Birmingham and neighbours – but noted that other areas had already pressed ahead with similar schemes.
“I’m delighted to see that the steps we’ve taken in Manchester, in Sheffield, has led to an appetite amongst some of the local authorities coming together in the West Midlands to emulate something like that themselves, and build on this growth deal by having more power devolved in the future to the West Midlands as well.
“The growth deal is significant but in many ways its greater significance is that it is a big step towards even greater devolution in the future.”
As May’s general election draws closer, Mr Clegg also confirmed that Liberal Democrats would take the same approach as in 2010 – by offering to talk to the party with “the most seats and the most votes” about whether they could work together if there was a hung Parliament,
He said: “I just think in a democracy you’ve got to follow the instructions of the British people. That’s why my view and our view hasn’t wavered one bit. It’s not about personal preferences. It’s not about personal likes and dislikes. If the British people say there is a party that has more wind in its sails than others, even if it doesn’t have a majority, it seems to me that it is democratically right to say that party has the legitimacy to seek to form a government if it chooses to do so. It may not be possible [for it to form a government] but it certainly seems to me that it has the right to try to do so first.”