Birmingham must consider introducing road pricing if it hopes to receive urgently-needed investment for public transport, the Local Government Secretary has warned.
Hazel Blears hinted the city would not receive the funding it has asked for unless it agrees to introduce charges. She warned that cities had to face up to the need to take difficult decisions in order to cut congestions.
Ms Blears will today set out her vision for the future of local government at Labour's conference in Bournemouth. She will stress that the Government wants to devolve more power to local authorities - but only if they take steps to improve the way they are governed.
All councils have been ordered to choose between creating a directly-elected mayor, holding direct elections for council cabinet members or continuing with the council leader system which operates in most local authorities.
In an interview with The Birmingham Post, she highlighted road pricing as the type of decision councils could not be allowed to avoid. Ministers had asked authorities to develop schemes which could eventually be developed into national systems, in return for extra public funds for public transport.
But West Midland authorities have decided against introducing a pilot road pricing scheme, after a lengthy inquiry which cost millions, despite estimating that transport in the region needs investment of #2 billion.
Opposition to a potential pilot scheme was led by Labour MP John Spellar (Warley), a former Transport Minister.
However, Greater Manchester, including Ms Blears' constituency of Salford, have decided to introduce road pricing and may reap the financial benefits in the form of an injection of cash to improve bus, rail and tram services.
Ms Blears said: "We think transport is a huge economic priority. If you are going to create the kind of economic development that we want to see happen, and the number of jobs created, transport is key to that. Obviously it is up to local authorities if they want to go forward with congestion charging.
In Manchester, authorities have voted to confirm that they will, and obviously it will be a big issue locally for Birmingham.
"I think the possibility of significant investment in public transport is quite a big incentive for people. And if you are going to keep your economy moving, you need to keep your traffic moving."
Critics, including Conservative MPs, have accused the Government of blackmailing local authorities by refusing to provide funding unless they go along with the controversial road pricing proposals. But Ms Blears was unapologetic. She said: "I think that people have got to decide whether or not they want us to change our behaviour. We have got to cut congestion, we can't go on as we are.
"In Manchester they said they want to get the public investment in place before they bring in the congestion charging, so people have a genuine alternative choice.
"That is the kind of debate that's going on, but for many of our big cities the status quo is not an option."
The seven West Midlands councils, and passenger transport authority Centro, held back from responding to a Government request to submit proposals for road pricing and congestion charging earlier this year.