Council leader Sir Albert Bore explains why the type of all-powerful regional chief proposed would not work in the region. Post Editor Stacey Barnfield reports
Sir Albert Bore has admitted there is “zero prospect” of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership being led by a conurbation mayor.
The Birmingham City Council leader was speaking after the Government announced its support for plans to devolve greater decision-making and spending controls to the country’s regions to stimulate the economy.
And Coun Bore (Lab, Ladywood) also revealed how difficult it has been bringing council leaders together to form the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), “never mind table the notion of electing someone to be a mayor for the area”.
As part of the report, the Government says it is ‘supporting local authorities that wish to create a combined authority or implement other forms of collaboration including conurbation mayors’.
An LEP conurbation mayor could potentially become the most powerful position in the region with direct influence over different local authority budgets – one of several stumbling blocks for previous suggestions to have a West Midlands-wide decision maker.
Coun Bore is a known supporter of a high-profile figurehead for big cities, having supported Hodge Hill MP Liam Byrne in his campaign to become Birmingham’s first elected mayor during last spring’s failed referendum. The people of Birmingham overwhelmingly rejected the idea of the new role, stopping the campaigns of former Erdington MP Sion Simon, Mr Byrne and then Conservative council leader Mike Whitby before they got going.
Coun Bore has for 12 years advocated an elected mayor for Birmingham.
“Notwithstanding that I’m sitting here in the position I now am, I still believe that elected mayors add something,” he told the Birmingham Post.
“And it’s this – you represent the city, not the city council. You are elected by the residents of the city and therefore you are seen to be the person in charge.
“And, most importantly, you’re seen by government.
“An analogy I’ve always used is to take a pebble and throw it in to a pond and watch the ripples. The bigger the pebble, the further the ripples travel,” he said.
“Birmingham provides economic ripples that go a long way and this is now being realised. Birmingham is at the centre of the economic ripples so what we need is governance that fits that economic map,” he added.
Coun Bore said there is another leader in the LEP area who has told him “in no way would the residents of his authority ever vote for a mayor who ran things out of Birmingham”.
“You could elect a mayor for a wider region such as the LEP area but because at the moment it is such a disparate grouping of authorities who are only just beginning to learn how to work together I think as a notion I really doubt it would be taken up,” said Coun Bore.
“There is no point of raising that as an issue in the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP. It has been very difficult to argue for a combined authority which is bringing the leaders together never mind electing someone to be the mayor for the LEP area.
“There is zero prospect of that agenda being taken up in the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP.”
Coun Bore said the LEP board are looking ahead to 2015 and a possible change of government by trying to establish what will be the attitude of a Labour leadership to LEPs.
“None of us want the situation that came about in 2010 when an incoming coalition scrapped Regional Development Agencies and there was a vacuum and nothing happened,” he said.
“Out of that has come LEPs but it has taken a while and has been a painful process. None of us want that vacuum to emerge in 2015.
“I’ve been talking to Hilary Benn about what an incoming Labour Government might want to do around the LEP agenda because I want to make sure that whatever we’re doing now is going to lead into whatever a Labour leadership might want to do.”
Coun Bore believes the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP has solved any issues surrounding governance and who has final say administering a multi-billion pound budget.
“There was a clear hint from government that if this is to be successful, we would need to have absolute clarity around the issue of governance and I think behind that is the recognition that with LEPs there is a bit of a democratic deficit agenda,” he said.
“You’ve brought the business community and public sector together and there are decisions being taken with public-sector money.
“You’ve got to have democratic accountability here and that isn’t currently built into LEPs.
“Birmingham City Council is acting as the accountable body for much of what the LEP currently does.
“What the government suggests is that we put in place a supervisory board which is made up of all the leaders of all the authorities in the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP area.
“If you set up in local government a joint committee of various authorities the individuals who go into that committee carry with them the authority of their own council and decisions taken are in effect the decisions of that council. It does mean you are bound in to the decisions of the supervisory board and that builds in accountability.
“That deals with the democratic deficit dilemma.”