Birmingham and the Black Country have agreed a historic deal to create a combined authority in the region – with Coventry expected to join up.
The Post understands Coventry City Council has also agreed to sign up – but has yet to rubber stamp the move which promises to attract hundreds of millions of pounds of investment to the region.
The creation of a combined authority is a vital step to devolve powers currently held in Westminster to the regions, over areas like development, housing and skills.
Sandwell Council leader Darren Cooper told the Post: “At this stage we have definitely got Birmingham and the Black Country and we will would extend a warm welcome to Coventry or Solihull.
“There is an agreement in principle with Coventry, and there is an agreement with Solihull. I am sure we will have a West Midlands combined authority.”
An agreement will be signed by representatives of the five councils today and a shadow working group will be created to set up the authority.
Coun Cooper said he wanted the authority set up before the General Election in May. That would likely mean striking an agreement on powers by March, which he accepted was a “tough timescale”.
He said it stood to become the first combined authority with three cities – Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Coventry – and represent about 3.4 million people.
An area of contention is likely to be the name. While Greater Birmingham has been mooted, Coun Cooper said he preferred the West Midlands Combined Authority.
Certain powers will be taken over, including transport and regeneration, and talks will now take place over further responsibilities in areas like development, skills and education, policing, health and social care and culture.
The Greater Manchester combined authority was announced earlier this week alongside news that there would be a regional mayor. However, Coun Cooper said: “At the moment in time I don’t see the need for a mayor. I think we should be careful to walk before we run.
“To get us to this point is a massive achievement in its own right when you look back at local politics over the past 10 or 15 years.”
It is thought that the chairs of the three local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) in the region will form part of talks. The future boundaries of the LEPs may be up for debate after the new authority is established.
Erdington MP Jack Dromey said the agreement struck between councils represented strong progress for politics in this region.
He said: “For too long, too much has been done in Whitehall and Westminster. This is a landmark decision for the local authorities to combine to go for growth in the heart of England.
“The West Midlands has big problems but huge potential, providing we work as one to build a strong economy and create jobs.
“Now we should bid for powers and resoruces to be devolved so that we can go for it.”
Sir Albert Bore, leader of Birmingham City Council, added: “I am pleased that we have come together to reach this agreement which will ensure the region makes a full contribution both to the UK’s economic recovery and the re-balancing of the national economy. A combined authority stretching from Wolverhampton to Coventry and beyond, and from East Staffordshire to Redditch would form the core of a Midlands powerhouse to compete with city regions around the world.”
Solihull continues to be the most reticent authority in terms of creating the new authority.
Coun Bob Sleigh, leader of Solihull Council, said: “We are open to discussions around better regional cooperation as we recognise in a global economy the region must punch its weight. However, any new arrangements must benefit both the people I serve in Solihull as well as the regional partners.”