A lack of clear leadership is holding back a West Midlands bid for billions of pounds of investment in public transport linked to road pricing, Ministers have claimed.

But the suggestion was rejected by Birmingham Council Leader Mike Whitby, who said councils were speaking "with one voice" on the issue of congestion charging.

Local authorities have identified #3 billion of transport improvements which they say the region urgently needs, including the refurbishment of New Street station.

But Ministers at the Department for Transport say money will only be made available if the region agrees to pilot a congestion charging scheme, which could eventually be extended across the country.

A report produced by seven West Midlands councils has suggested charging motorists #4 a day to travel into central Birmingham, but no firm decisions have been made.

Meanwhile, authorities in the Greater Manchester area have launched their own rival bid for the funding.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Transport Minister Stephen Ladyman said lack of unity among West Midland councils had created "challenges". He said: "One of the challenges in a complex conurbation such as the west midlands is that there are many local authorities with different political leaderships and different views on the right way forward.

"The Secretary of State and I have to overcome the challenge of getting them all working together, but we are fully determined to do it.'

The issue was raised by Birmingham MP Lynne Jones (Lab Selly Oak), who claimed the city's Conservative-led council was moving too slowly.

She asked the Minister: "Does he share my disappointment that the leadership of Birmingham city council, like other local authorities in the West Midlands, has knocked back the principle of road pricing and is still consulting on that matter rather than on the practicalities of introducing such a scheme?"

Coun Whitby said the region's authorities had received Government funding to look into the options for road pricing carefully, and that was what they were doing.

Birmingham City Council was now acting in unison with the rest of the region while previous administrations had attempted to dictate policy to neighbouring authorities and soured relations with them, he claimed.

He said: "For anybody to make out that the different political leaderships is an obstacle in the West Midlands is so far off the mark it is unacceptable. We are working extremely well together."

Meanwhile, the leaders of eight local authorities have written to senior members of the Cabinet highlighting their co-operation over road pricing as evidence that the region is ready for "city region" status, in which authorities could gain significant new powers.

Ministers are expected to publish a White Paper within weeks offering a menu of options to local authorities.