The Midlands' most powerful people are forming a 'super' leadership group, designed to kick-start jobs and housing across the region.

Formed by Minister for the West Midlands, Liam Byrne, the new West Midlands Leadership Group will aim to improve employment and housing standards. And it will be held accountable by the Minister himself, reporting back on its progress at sessions every two months.

The group includes the heads of a number of little-known but influential Government quangos, which between them spend billions of pounds of taxpayers' money.

The move comes as Mr Byrne was today set to host a conference at the University of Warwick to examine the challenges likely to face the region over the next 30 years.

Mr Byrne was appointed Minister for the West Midlands by Gordon Brown, shortly after the new Prime Minister took office in June.

He pledged at the time that his priority would be to "knock heads together" and ensure the region's many official agencies worked together effectively.

But Conservative Shadow Cabinet member Andrew Mitchell (Con Sutton Coldfield), Shadow Minister for Birmingham, feared the group would be no more than a "press release stunt".

And an alternative vision for local government was set out by Tory peer Lord Heseltine at the Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool yesterday, when he called for directly-elected mayors to take over the role of many government quangos.

Despite the success of high-profile developments in Birmingham, such as the new Bullring shopping centre, parts of the city continue to suffer from devastating levels of unemployment.

Birmingham includes the three constituencies in the whole of the UK with highest proportion of people out of work, according to House of Commons figures.

In Ladywood, 19 per cent of residents claimed Jobseeker's Allowance in July this year. In Sparkbrook and Small Heath the figure was 14.3 per cent while Hodge Hill, Mr Byrne's

constituency, has the third worst figure in the country with 11.4 per cent out of work. The West Midlands has also experienced rising house prices, with the average price of a home rising 5.5 per cent to £178,972 in the 12 months to July this year.

The West Midlands Leadership Group will identify issues where the Government is failing to meet the needs of the West Midlands, which Mr Byrne plans to take up with ministerial colleagues.

Members will include Trudi Elliot, of the Government Office for the West Midlands; John Edwards of Advantage West Midlands; Olwen Dutton of the West Midlands Regional Assembly, which is set ot be abolished; David Cragg of the Learning & Skills Council; Margaret Tovey of Job Centre Plus and and Cynthia Bower of West Midlands Strategic Health Authority.

Mr Byrne said: "I promised to Gordon Brown to develop new ways and means to speed up delivery of new jobs and new homes and that means getting the right team at the top.

"If we're to punch our weight in the world, we need to work together and communicate our ideas.

"So I am delighted that I am able to draw upon the wide range of expertise and knowledge that this group brings together.

"I look forward to working with each member of the group and working with my colleagues in government to further the interest of the West Midlands."

Business leaders offered a cautious welcome to the new group last night.

John Lamb, of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, said: "This sounds like it could be a very useful body. We hope it gets things done and doesn't just become a talking shop, and we'll be watching what it achieves with interest."

The Warwick debate will begin with Mr Byrne setting out what the West Midlands could be like in 30 years time and challenge an audience of business leaders, politicians, entrepreneurs, public sector and young people to give their views on the key that will influence the future of the region. :