The Government’s decision not to name the West Midlands as one of the country’s first city regions has sent shock waves through the political and business community.
Council leaders and other partner organisations had convinced themselves that the Birmingham, Coventry and the Black Country City Region would be selected as a trailblazer for others to follow, but sadly they failed to convince Communities Secretary Hazel Blears.
Allegations are already beginning to fly thick and fast, with Birmingham Chamber of Commerce chief executive Jerry Blackett suggesting bias may be to blame. Mr Blackett points out that the two cities chosen to pilot city regions – Manchester and Leeds – both have Labour cabinet members as MPs.
There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that Ms Blears deliberately favoured her own party, but the Chamber’s claim is likely to have a resonance in Birmingham where popular opinion has it that the Government is all too keen to snub a city run by a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.
There is no avoiding the economic cost to the West Midlands of losing out on city region status. Some 44,000 jobs had been predicted to flow from a favourable decision, along with billions of pounds of investment. There may be some hope for the future, with Ms Blears actively considering plans for Accelerated Development Zones in the region, but the bigger prize has eluded the West Midlands for the time being.
The most important thing now is to discover why the Government turned down the region’s bid. An obvious possibility is that the seven councils hardly give the impression of working closely together or of having much in common, a point amplified by the fiasco over finding a name for the city region.
Ms Blears owes it to the West Midlands to explain why she acted as she did.