Plans to forge closer links between the region’s Local Enterprise Partnerships have been dealt a decisive blow, with one leader saying it will not happen under ‘any circumstances’.
Birmingham City Council leader Sir Albert Bore said he believes the regional economy will only be successful if the Greater Birmingham and Black Country LEPs work as one.
In his annual leader’s policy statement Sir Albert called for the organisations to join together, particularly on transport and infrastructure.
The Labour leader said: “Many of our aims can only be achieved by working at a city-regional level – focused on the real economic geography of Greater Birmingham.
“So we are determined to build a strong city regional partnership of local authorities and to work closely with the business community and other partners to drive this agenda.
“I chose to mention the city region agenda and am not saying LEP because I think there needs to be changes to the LEP structure. I talk about the economic geography of the region not the LEP area.”
He said that in terms of the transport infrastructure and the travel to work area Birmingham’s economy is closely tied to the Black Country, and added: “We need to have the right economic footprint.”
The Birmingham Post recently revealed Sir Albert’s urban mobility plan – which, when finalised later this year, will set out the city’s transport blueprint for the next decade.
He believes that to deliver real improvements for the region in areas like transport, the Black Country and Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEPs need to work together much more closely.
Sir Albert said that the local transport boards have already agreed in principle to bring the two areas together and he would be lobbying for further close ties.
There has historically been fierce resistance from the Black Country authorities to greater links due to fears their economic interests could be subsumed by their powerful Birmingham neighbour.
Sir Albert added that he has urged Labour’s shadow cabinet, should they win the 2015 election, not to abolish LEPs but to reform them, to avoid a repeat of the situation in 2010 when there was a two year gap between the abolition of the Regional Development Agencies and the launch of LEPs.
But in an outspoken response Walsall Council leader Mike Bird ruled out any merger between the Birmingham and Black Country LEPs.
The Conservative council leader said that the Black Country is a region in its own right and had fought hard to control its own economic destiny.
“Our answer to Sir Albert is no. We have told him this and if he doesn’t understand that I am sad for him.
“We do not want to join Birmingham and the Outer Mongolian LEP under any circumstances, and if they don’t like that, tough.
“We will of course cooperate with Birmingham on common interests and projects, we are after all part of the West Midlands.
“The Black Country leaders are together on this, we worked hard to set up this LEP and believe we are well placed to get our own City Deal.
“We said no to Mike Whitby, he didn’t like that, and the answer is the same for Sir Albert.”
Also in his leader’s statement Sir Albert focused on three areas – protecting the vulnerable, developing democracy and creating a prosperous city.
A key element is his aim of closing the gap of inequality and deprivation in the city with initiatives including cut price travel for young people, working with credit unions on financial inclusion, develop action zones to tackle child poverty and host a national conference on government cuts and welfare reform.
There are pledges on developing the local economy, the further development of economic zones and a city centre retail strategy.
He also made a pledge to build 1,200 council owned houses over the next year, as well as finalise a new city housing strategy to tackle the challenges of the next two decades in the Autumn.
The council will build 1,800 new primary school, 400 special school and 750 secondary school places.
The council will also work on the roll out of 20mph limit for residential roads to improve safety.