Birmingham City Council is set to leave the Local Government Association in the latest evidence of a regional political divide over spending cuts.
The council, along with seven other major city authorities making up the Cabinet of Core Cities, has given 12 months notice to the body designed to give national voice to local government concerns.
The core cities group, which also includes Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield, has decided to turn its back on the membership body because it wants to deal direct with the Government on issues affecting major urban conurbations outside London.
Both the association and the core cities group have had public fallouts with Communities Secretary Eric Pickles in recent months – after he announced a £2 million cut in funding for the LGA and refused to meet the leaders of England’s eight largest cities.
The move would be a “retrograde step” in the name of party politics, according to a former Birmingham councillor who served in a senior role in the LGA for close to a decade.
However, the eight conurbations between them deliver 27 per cent of the nation’s economic output and want to have a greater say in local politics and funding.
The move comes amid plans for a local funding shake up, giving city regions a greater say about how money is spent in their communities, headed up by Michael Heseltine through the Greater Birmingham Project.
In a joint statement, the cities said: “Whilst we recognise that there are matters which affect a large number of local authorities in a similar way, there are a range of critical issues which affect large urban areas differently, and on which we need to have more focused representation at the national level.”
The group says it is not ruling out remaining in the LGA, and wants to explore options for a new relationship, with the LGA. The city council spends about £100,000 a year on LGA membership, and the larger cities en masse spend around £600,000.
However, with Lord Heseltine’s plans for £60 billion worth of funds to be given directly to regions through a single pot and with all eight having agreed city deals with the Government many of the major authorities’ priorities differ from the shire counties.
Former city councillor Les Lawrence, who previously served as chairman of the LGA’s children and young people board, said the threat to leave was putting politics ahead of service delivery, as it was vital for local government to have a national voice.
“This is a parochial view around one political party. This is basically a Labour party club,” he said.
“If they have got a beef with Pickles then that shows they are only considering their local authorities in party political terms and not in service delivery terms.”
Mr Lawrence added: “If all eight withdraw then that would be a serious and retrograde step because there needs to be a body representing local government.”
A spokesperson for the LGA said threats to leave were nothing new.
She said: “This time last year 31 councils were on notice to leave the LGA this April, and we are pleased to say that all 31 will now be remaining in membership. So far this year 21 councils have given notice to leave from April 2014, including the eight core cities.
“Now more than ever it is important for local government to work together and to speak as one national voice. We will continue to work closely with the Core Cities, individually and collectively over the next 12 months, to ensure that our membership continues to offer real, tangible benefits to them and their local communities.”
The move will come as a second blow to the LGA, which was hit by an immediate £2 million funding cut from the Department for Communities and Local Government last week.
Sir Merrick Cockell, the association’s chair, later publicly warned Communities Secretary Eric Pickles that a lack of certainty about public funding would lead to “firesale decisions”.