A group of five MPs in the West Midlands have said the government needs to rethink the role of regional minister Ian Austin.
A report by the West Midlands Regional Committee said regional ministers were faced by a “dichotomy” because they represented the region to the government, but also had to represent the government to the region.
The committee acknowledged the work of Ian Austin in the post but added: “We do not believe that his role representing the region in government has yet been properly defined... if the post of regional minister is to achieve its full potential in the development of regional approaches there needs to be greater clarity about the role.
“A key issue to be resolved is how they can openly advocate regional interests whilst simultaneously being bound to defend government policies in the region through a conventional application of collective responsibility.
“Regional ministers have been given a different role to ministers elsewhere in government, and this difference needs to be reflected in accountability arrangements if they are successfully to represent the interests of their region to the rest of government.”
The words came in the first report by the House of Commons West Midlands Regional Committee set up in March to look at the impact of the recession on the region.
The committee is made up of five Labour MPs – Richard Burden (Birmingham Northfield), Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West), David Kidney (Stafford), James Plaskitt (Warwick & Leamington) and Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North).
Mr Burden, who chaired the committee, said the report should not be seen as a criticism of either Mr Austin or his predecessor Liam Byrne, and said they had been instrumental behind some key high-profile developments in the area, like New Street Gateway project and the setting up of the West Midlands Taskforce.
Mr Austin and Mr Byrne have been considered to be very close to the government and to the prime minister personally.
And Mr Burden said businesses and the media needed to recognise that a politician in this type of role would always have dual responsibilities to some extent. “It’s something that’s an issue for all regional ministers,” he said. “Liam Byrne and Ian Austin have played important roles, in New Street Station and the taskforce respectively. What we are saying is that for regional ministers to fulfil their role in the future all of us have to recognise that they have two responsibilities because of their two roles. It’s an absolutely genuine dual role and it generates dual contradictory pressures.
“We are saying if that is going to work effectively all of us need to be sensitive to that to allow the ministers the flexibility they need to do their role.”