Birmingham City Council leader Mike Whitby has dropped his strongest indication yet that he is going to put himself forward as a candidate for the city's first elected mayor.
The Conservative chief stopped short of an explicit declaration but confirmed that during talks with Downing Street he has been told that an elected mayor of Birmingham would be as influential as a Cabinet Minister and have the same access to the corridors of Whitehall.
And he announced what could well become his election campaign slogan ‘‘Britain’s Best Bet is Birmingham’’ as he hammered the case for further expansion of Birmingham Airport and bringing the development of High Speed Rail forward from its current start date of 2026.
He said: “I have been, and as elected mayor I would be, going to Government and saying that we can deliver Birmingham Airport expansion at one per cent of the cost of a third runway at Heathrow.
“It will lift passenger numbers by ten million. And I will insist we bring HS2 forward. Twelve years is too long for such an important project.”
He believes that with excellent international transport links Birmingham will succeed economically and provide an alternative investment zone to the South-east and London.
Ten years ago Coun Whitby was opposed to the US-style elected mayoral system, but after leading the city council for eight years he has changed his view. He is now talking to ministers about the powers which could be handed down.
He said: “It has being implied to me that I would have the same access as a Cabinet minister.
“It has been made clear that the Government wants cities to grow and that mayors will be given meaningful powers to bring about economic development.”