A mayor with influence over Birmingham and the Black Country could be elected under major plans by Labour to devolve power to regions.
Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna has called for the region to have a “metro mayor” – and added political change was vital as “the crisis in our democracy isn’t going away”.
In one of the most strident interviews given by a senior politician on devolution to English regions, Mr Umunna called for a more federal political model and claimed extra powers devolved to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London were “just the start”.
The regional mayors would be in control of combined authorities – over-arching bodies which council leaders in Birmingham, the Black Country and Solihull are in talks over setting up under the Greater Birmingham banner.
Speaking to the Post, Mr Umunna said the roles would only be brought in if demanded by local councils but believed it would be popular with voters tired of seeing decisions made for them in Whitehall.
Labour has pledged to distribute £30 billion to combined authorities alongside powers including keeping growth in business rate revenues and greater freedom over building housing, skills and infrastructure.
He said: “One of the things that I think certainly deserves consideration is giving combined authorities – which there is a desire to form here in Birmingham – the ability, if they want, to have big, powerful, mayors like we have in London.
“I think that is one way we can move towards a more federal model without creating a whole cadre of new politicians.
“If you have a regional body, you have multiple numbers of politicians but if you have one mayor there is more accountability.
“If you look at London, there wasn’t necessarily a huge majority in favour of creating the role of Mayor of London. But if there was anybody proposing now to abolish that post there would be an absolute outcry. It has proved very popular and it has helped drive a strategic direction for the city as an institution.”
Talks are currently taking place between Birmingham City Council and authorities in Solihull, Wolverhampton, Walsall, Sandwell and Dudley over establishing a combined authority to oversee priorities like transport, marketing and regeneration.
The Post has previously reported that, while an accord has been struck between the city and Black Country councils, it has been tougher to strike agreement with Solihull.
Councils in Staffordshire and Worcestershire may also form part of the authority.
The authorities are key to accessing powers and funding and have already been set up around Sheffield, the North East, Greater Manchester, Liverpool and West Yorkshire.
Chancellor George Osborne also previously called for the creation of such authorities to be led by a mayor.
Voters in Birmingham rejected a directly-elected mayor in 2012 but a metro mayor would be a different prospect.
However, following the Scottish referendum the goalposts have been moved – the Scotland Act gives borrowing and tax powers to the Scottish government – and English cities are demanding greater powers to be devolved.
On combined authorities, Mr Umunna said: “I think it is the future and I think this crisis of trust in our institutions and what I call a crisis in our democracy isn’t going away and we have to find solutions.
“I think the status quo isn’t sustainable, never mind for Birmingham, but every part of the UK at the moment. We have got to rehabilitate our political system and I say that from the point of view of someone who strongly believes in politics.”
He added: “When there is real power there it makes a difference.
“The current government ideologically sees the state as quite a maligned thing.
“They are not so much, in my view, interested in devolving power as hacking away at government activity.
“What I am talking about is not cutting government but having a more efficient and democratic government by better distributing power across the United Kingdom.”
Former Labour cabinet minister Lord Adonis has been drawing up proposals for a “decisive shift away from decades of Whitehall centralisation” were the party to gain power.
Lord Adonis has proposed that at least £6 billion a year of transport, housing, welfare and infrastructure budgets are devolved from central government.
His work follows the creation of the Single Local Growth Fund on the back of Lord Heseltine’s focus on devolution.
The ability to retain the growth in business rates income would be dependent on a combined authority being set up and would be delivered alongside local enterprise partnerships.
Across the West Midlands, a total of £1.45 billion was raised through business rates in the 2013 financial year, after a 3.7 per cent rise.
Labour also proposes that 25 per cent of all government procurement contracts go to small and medium-sized enterprises, both directly and through supply chains.
Mr Umunna told the Post he hoped that would be just the start of a move towards a more federal political system.
He said: “I do believe there are other areas of competence which we can devolve down and that starts for me with the economic tools to drive growth locally.
“I have always been a very strong advocate of this, because I believe we are too centralised, and there is a bit of this attitude that Whitehall knows best.
“But if you look what Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle and other local authorities are doing I think they can demonstrate that Whitehall doesn’t always know best and they are very capable of running their own shows.
“We have got to give power away. Power to the people is what I say. There is no good a jumped up Liberal Democrat dictating to businesses and players in this area in Birmingham how to grow your economy.
“You know how to do that. We need to give you the tools to do that.”
The Government has got the ball rolling on devolution of powers with the £2 billion-a-year Local Growth Fund on the back of Lord Heseltine’s No Stone Unturned report in 2012.
While that fell short, the Chancellor has intimated plans to continue to shift powers out of Whitehall.
Mr Umunna said empowering city and county regions was a key way to restore faith in politics.
He added: “I would like us to move to much more of a federal model.”
“We do far too much at the centre and, for me, what has happened in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London is just the start. I would like us to further devolve power to our cities and regions so we have something more akin to a federal model.
“We know where decisions are made locally they command more confidence. If we are really to deal with the anti-politics that there is, I think part of the solution is in empowering people locally – not just through local authorities and the bodies that we do have but in their communities too.”