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West Midlands top Tory demands better devolution deal from Government

Combined Authority chairman Bob Sleigh criticises 'slow pace' of devo-deal in leaked letter to Prime Minister's top advisor

The Conservative leader of the West Midlands super-council has told Theresa May’s top advisor he is disappointed with the slow pace of devolution of powers in recent weeks.

Solihull council leader Bob Sleigh, in a letter to the Prime Minister’s aide Nick Timothy, also raised concerns over the lack of reference to devolution deals in the Chancellor’s budget two weeks ago.

Cllr Sleigh, who chairs the West Midlands Combined Authority, is demanding the Government puts new powers and funding on the table before the election of the region’s first mayor in May.

The leaked letter said: “We have recently been concerned at the slow pace of discussions and also the lack of reference to them in the Chancellor's budget speech.”

Bob Sleigh and Theresa May

Mr Sleigh added that while the West Midlands is still waiting, “We also not that a further agreement has been reached with the Mayor of London.

“In the light of this I wonder if I can call upon your support for a similar approach to be adopted for the West Midlands.”

He is calling for a bridging deal making the groundwork for a further devolution deal covering housing, energy, industrial strategy and transport management.

A combined authority insider said the direct approach to Mr Timothy, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, is being seen as a call for Number 10 to give the Chancellor and Treasury ‘a kick up the backside’ over devolution.

Birmingham Hodge Hill MP Liam Byrne, who is campaign chief for Labour’s Sion Simon in his bid to become mayor, said: “The Tories have let the cat out the bag. Our councils, NHS, schools and police have been cut harder than almost anywhere in the country - and now the Conservatives are getting worried.

West Midlands Combined Authority launched with Ninder Johal (Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership), Martin Reeves (Coventry City Council), Bob Sleigh (Solihull council) and Roger Lawrence (Wolverhampton city council)

“They’re desperate for the Treasury to speed up some hand-outs - but it seems, Forgetful Phil, the careless Chancellor has put devolution in the slow lane. He’s either forgotten about the Metro-Mayor elections, or he simply doesn’t care. Well, West Midlands voters won’t forgive him. It’s just one more Tory let-down.”

Under the first devolution deal signed in 2015 the West Midlands was been handed £36 million a year Government money and increased responsibility for transport, housing and economic growth in the region.

The mayor will be elected on May 4 and lead the authority.

Commenting to the Birmingham Mail after the letter was leaked, cllr Sleigh sought to smooth over the issue.

He said: “Good progress has already been made on devolving powers from Whitehall to the West Midlands. This was boosted further by Mr Hammond’s Autumn Statement when he announced a continuation of discussions on future devolution as well as new borrowing powers for the combined authority and the incoming Mayor.

“Those discussions are progressing well and we are naturally hungry for more devolution so we have the tools to create a healthy and prosperous region, one that can support the Government’s own Industrial Strategy and make a key contribution towards a successful post-Brexit UK economy.”

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