Dear Editor, Your editorial about the lack of real powers likely to be available to an elected Birmingham mayor is timely.
The current debate is too personality focused when the real issue is: what could a Birmingham mayor do that the council leader cannot?
The comparison with London is unhelpful.
Boris Johnson can speak for London because he has key strategic powers over a unified political system covering six million people.
He may be mayor of a great city, but he actually runs a regional government.
A Birmingham or Coventry mayor will never be able to do this.
Indeed it would be hugely damaging to local services to give elected mayors in the West Midlands’ conurbation sole powers over transport, policing or top-level land use planning.
While delivery of these services is often local, we have planned and resourced these services on a regional basis because this is the most effective way to do so.
For purely ideological reasons the present Government dislikes regions, but the reality is that regional planning and co-ordination remains essential if we are to avoid wasteful duplication and tackle wider problems such as housing provision and traffic congestion.
I don’t want the tram or bus I catch to Wolverhampton stopped at the Sandwell/Birmingham border because the respective borough’s elected mayors can’t agree on funding public transport.
Since 1973 Centro has joined up travel in the West Midlands urban area and where funds are available, also reaches out into the shire parts of the wider West Midlands region.
This system needs extension, not fragmentation, preferably into a shire-urban West Midlands regional transport authority under a unified political body.
Unlike Boris a Birmingham-elected mayor can never have a mandate to speak for the wider West Midlands’ transport or other needs.
A similar problem exists on jobs and the economy.
Birmingham needs to be a vibrant regional capital, but its economic prospects are bound up with the Black Country and the rest of the West Midlands.
The abolition of Advantage West Midlands – a genuine regional/national partnership with the power to deliver regeneration – is a disaster for Birmingham and the wider region.
Michael Ward, new president of the Birmingham Chamber, says it all when, as reported in The Post, he points to virtual tribalism between the Black Country and Birmingham and “too many organisations doing the same things”.
With the creation of Local Enterprise Partnerships – toothless and parochial talking shops – the Government has destroyed the single regional economic focus we had through AWM.
In contrast, London, which is much better placed economically, retains its regional development agency under the region’s mayor.
We are about to pay a heavy price in jobs and prosperity for this ideologically-driven act of folly. In this context the election of a local executive mayor is worse than an irrelevance.
It risks yet more fragmentation and division.
Brum doesn’t need a Boris (or a Ken).
What Birmingham and the wider West Midlands needs is the sort of joined-up political and economic system London enjoys.
Ex-chair West Midlands