Devolution has become the word of the year and not just because of Scotland’s decision to say no to independence.
And it was very much on his mind when Lord Heseltine came to Birmingham to launch the Skills Hub, which will provide a vital link between business and further education.
But the subject has been at the forefront on the former deputy prime minister’s mind for a long time.
As always, he spoke a lot of sense and urged this region to convince London that we were capable of taking on more powers.
“In London they do not think you are capable of running things. You are up against fundamental problems because they believe you are not up to it,” he said.
Fighting talk from a man who has been involved in high-powered battles many times.
But we can all have sympathy for the motives behind Scotland’s bid for “freedom”.
Even though Scotland voted ‘no’, the Westminster consensus will be changed forever so there couldn’t be a better time to discuss the vital role that cities play in the UK economy. Devolved nations are increasingly being given powers to raise revenue locally.
However, Greater Manchester has a total GVA of £50 billion, more than that of Wales (£47 billion).
The West Midlands also has a larger GVA than Wales and London’s GVA (£310 billion) is 60 per cent bigger than that of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland added together.
Why should Wales and Scotland be granted more powers whilst some city regions contribute more, in terms of GVA, to the national economy?
English regions like the West Midlands have been submerged by Westminster for far too long. All of us outside London should have much more to say over our destines.
No-one pretends that this will be an easy task but we must start to build on the momentum that the Scottish debate has generated.
As the Chamber’s “Empowering Cities” debate at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham this week demonstrated, the West Midlands is now firmly in the queue for talks about devolution.
But, of course, Scotland’s ‘no’ vote has prolonged the uncertainty.
And where does it all stop? If there are to be more devolved powers for the West Midlands, what price Sutton Coldfield and Solihull? The Black Country?
For that reason it is vital that our region at last gets it act together to bid with one voice for the sort of powers that will allow it to control its own destiny in the areas that matter – not Whitehall. And the good news is this has started.
Birmingham City Council has now stepped up its bid to attract more powers for the region by formally joining forces with Solihull to work on projects like the HS2 high-speed rail link.
The UK’s largest local authority has invited other West Midlands councils to become part of a joint economic growth hub to pool staff on planning, transport, regeneration, skills and investment.
This is a wise move because both the Government and the opposition have suggested that, for cities to gain extra economic power, they would first have to follow the Greater Manchester example and set up combined authorities. Turf wars have led to smaller councils in the Black Country and Coventry fearful of being overwhelmed by their larger neighbours.
However, there is a growing belief that, despite its size, Birmingham is disadvantaged by not being part of a combined authority.
Sharing resources with councils like Solihull is a good start along with the setting up Midlands Connect, which co-ordinates transport projects across the region.
If five million Scots can set their own tax rates (something that has been promised even with the ‘no’ vote) then what powers, freedoms and flexibilities should the 5.5 million West Midlanders deserve?
Cities are the driving force behind the UK economy but control only a fraction of the money they raise with 95 per cent going to Westminster for distribution entirely in the gift of central government.
By international standards, the UK currently has a highly centralised tax and expenditure system. Only five per cent of taxes raised by local people are controlled by cities. The rest goes to Central Government.
Greater regional power could completely re-energise local democracy, boost England’s economic performance and help rebalance the economy away from London and the South East.
* Jerry Blackett is chief executive of Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce