Contrary to outdated opinions, the Black Country councils are leading the way in talks to create a new combined authority, according to Sandwell Council leader Darren Cooper.
Authorities Dudley, Walsall, Sandwell and Wolverhampton have been said in the past to be reluctant to build links with Birmingham, due to fears that new arrangements would be dominated by their larger neighbour.
But Coun Cooper said that view was out of date, and the Black Country was actually urging Birmingham to move faster – but he opposes a region-wide mayor.
Meanwhile, the leader of Solihull’s council has said he is not involved in talks over a combined authority – but argued the town would be a vital part of it.
Coun Cooper said: “The announcement about Manchester is where Birmingham and the Black Country need to be.”
He pointed out that the four Black Country authorities had formed their own executive joint committee more than four years ago, currently chaired by Coun Cooper, and were already working closely together.
“What people are fearful of is the big cities like Birmingham dominating everything. But that is not the way it would work.”
However, Coun Cooper said there was no need for a mayor, despite Labour Business Secretary Chuka Umunna's call for the role in an exclusive interview with the Post.
“In a combined authority we don’t need a new tier of governance.
“I really don’t think the public wants another tier of politicians.
“If we come together in a combined authority and at some point in the future we feel we need an elected mayor then fine.”
It has been reported that Solihull Council is reluctant to join a potential combined authority. Speaking to the Post, Coun Bob Sleigh (Con), leader of Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council, pointed out that the authority worked closely with its neighbours already, but said he had not been involved with talks about a combined authority.
He said: “Clearly Manchester is a very different place to us in the West Midlands.
“There you have ten unitary authorities of a similar size.
“So for them, moving to a combined authority is not so difficult as it might be in the West Midlands.”
He said Solihull was working in close partnership with its neighbours, through the local enterprise partnership. by working on a joint economic growth strategy and as a member of the West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority.
Solihull also signed a memorandum of understanding with Coventry and Warwickshire councils in 2012, commiting the authorities to working together.
But he said the council had not been involved in talks on a combined authority.
“We have had no discussions of that type at this point in time.”
However, it was unlikely a combined authority could go ahead without Solihull’s involvement, he said.
“Solihull is one of the economic drivers of the West Midlands so I think it would be extraordinary in the future if Solihull didn’t have a role to play...we will have to see how that works out in the future.”