Birmingham has submitted radical plans to devolve power and cash to the West Midlands in a “city deal” to be considered by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
And in a display of co-operation between local authorities, it has won the backing of eight neighbouring councils for the plans.
The Government has promised “an unprecedented transfer of power from central government to local communities” in a series of deals with Britain’s eight core cities.
Ministers have already agreed deals with Liverpool, including an extra £75 million funding for the city, and Manchester, where there are plans to build up to 7,000 homes.
But Birmingham has taken a different approach to other cities and allowed the Local Enterprise Partnership, the body set up to support local businesses, to take the lead role in drawing up the deal, rather than the city council.
It has meant that Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership’s nine members are all signed up to the proposals.
They include local authorities in Bromsgrove, Cannock Chase, East Staffordshire, Lichfield, Redditch, Solihull, Tamworth and Wyre Forest as well as Birmingham.
Andy Street, the John Lewis managing director who chairs the enterprise partnership, joined Birmingham City Council leader Mike Whitby and Solihull Council leader Ken Meeson to present the plans at Westminster.
They spoke to a panel of senior ministers including Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles, Transport Secretary Justine Greening and cities minister Greg Clark.
Mr Clegg and colleagues will now consider the proposals with a decision expected in the summer.
While details of Birmingham’s proposed deal have not been published, they are expected to include a request that the city and other local authorities be allowed to take responsibility for training and skills.
Business leaders have warned that a low skills base is holding the region back, and a report by a Birmingham City Council committee last year warned that a fifth of the working age population has no qualifications, the highest figure in any of Britain’s core cities.
The deal is also expected to include proposals for making use of land in the city and the surrounding area, including the vast property empire built up by Advantage West Midlands, the regional arm of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
The agency has been abolished, and much of the land it owned was transferred to the national Homes and Communities Agency. Mr Street and council leaders have also been talking to colleagues in the Black Country about devolving responsibility for transport to local level.
The difficulty here is that the region’s transport authority, Centro, covers the Black Country and Coventry as well as Birmingham and Solihull, and the Black Country has its own enterprise partnership while Coventry is part of the Coventry and Warwickshire LEP.
Birmingham’s proposed deal could also include a request to give the city more control over funding raised by a variety of government schemes designed to back employers, such as the Regional Growth Fund, a £2.4 billion Government fund to help businesses create jobs.
Local Labour politicians have been consulted about the plans, to ensure they still have the backing of the council if Labour regains control of the authority in local elections.
Meanwhile, Dudley MP Ian Austin has announced plans to create a cross-party campaign group to encourage the Government to move Whitehall departments out of London to the cities and regions of England.
He said this would promote more balanced economic growth, boost employment in the English regions and take pressure off the overcrowded capital. Mr Austin wants the Department for Business moved to the country’s industrial heartland of the West Midlands, and said the Department for Culture Media and Sport could follow the BBC to Manchester and says Defra could move to East Anglia.
He said: “Decisions about how Britain is run are taken by highly-paid civil servants with little knowledge about the rest of the country and how it is affected by the decisions they make. I reckon the business department would do more to support manufacturing if it was based in Birmingham or the Black Country.’’