Accountant and businessman Brian Woods-Scawen has emerged as the hot favourite to become the next chairman of regional development agency Advantage West Midlands.
He is believed to be well ahead of rival, Mike Beasley, the former Jaguar boss.
If he wins, it will be second time lucky for Mr Woods-Scawen who was previously defeated by current incumbent Nick Paul who steps down in December.
The latest development follows meetings with John Hutton, Business and Enterprise Secretary, when both short-listed candidates were interviewed.
However, the prize could yet be snatched from Mr Woods-Scawen’s grasp with some influential players with the ear of government pushing for the post to be re-advertised.
But that could be interpreted as a huge blow for the region – implying it cannot produce anyone with sufficient capabilities to take on the task.
“It would be a complete disaster for the reputation of this part of the world,” said one observer.
Whoever wins will play a critical role in the future of the West Midlands in everything from inward investment to regeneration. The three-day-a-week post – virtually full time in reality – pays around £80,000 and is for three years, with a three year option.
With regional development agencies due to get additional powers – over housing, transport and planning – in 2010 with the demise of regional assemblies, the chairmanship role becomes ever more important.
It is thought that Mr Woods-Scawen has presented the Government with a clear blueprint for how he sees AWM developing.
That is likely to involve a re-focusing of the organisation which in the past has been attacked as too slow moving in both its decision-making and its actions, allowing more of the detail to be done by partners but seeking to address new challenges and strategic leadership in a different economic environment.
It currently employs 330 people and has a budget of £350 million a year.
One source told The Birmingham Post: “Mike Beasley is out of the frame. The question is simply – has Brian got above the bar or will they have to go to the market again.”
And he said there was “disappointment tinged with realism” that others of high standard had not come forward to offer greater opposition to Mr Woods-Scawen.
The source blamed that in part on the three day a week spec, saying the job could easily be done in two.
“It’s a big ambassadorial role but there is a board of 15, so there are others to help out. The organisation is performing decently so there is not a problem there. But the sort of individual you want is not going to be doing it for the money – 12 days a month is too big a commitment.
“This is not Brian’s fault of course. I believe he is a very good and pragmatic candidate.”
The source said Mr Woods-Scawen had some significant backing among the business community, but others were not keen. This scepticism, he suggested, harked back to Mr Woods-Scawen’s role of leading Birmingham’s failed Capital of Culture bid.
“There is a lingering view that the strategy was a bit flawed,” said the source.
A second source with close links to the Government confirmed that it was Mr Woods-Scawen or re-advertising.
“The Government are going to take a lot of soundings before they make a decision,” they said.
And another AWM watcher said: “I think it is still 50:50 on which way it will go. I too would re-advertise.”
Mr Woods-Scawen does though have allies in Government circles – he is a member of the Committee on Standards in Public Life and a non-executive on the board of the Government Office for the West Midlands.
He is the former executive chairman of the Midlands region of PricewaterhouseCoopers. He was a board member of Advantage West Midlands from its formation in 1998 until 2003, chairman of West Bromwich Building Society and chairman of Coventry Solihull and Warwickshire Partnership.
Most accept he has done a good job in the latter capacity, a kind of AWM in microcosm.
Mr Beasley is the former managing director of Jaguar Cars and a former chairman of the West Midlands region of the CBI.
A decision is expected before the Parliamentary recess on July 22, but could yet drag on.