Solihull could be a fly in the ointment for plans to create a West Midlands-wide combined authority, as work to draw a new economic geography for the region steps up a gear.
Talks are taking place over the region’s authorities uniting under one banner, which could unlock a £20 billion pot were Labour to take power next year.
Combined authorities have already been created in Greater Manchester, Greater Liverpool, and South Yorkshire, with the North East expected to follow suit.
However, while leaders in Birmingham and parts of the Black Country have signalled intent to work together, Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council looks set to offer the major opposition.
Birmingham City Council leader Sir Albert Bore told the Post there was a separate conversation to be had about whether Coventry – which previously came under the Advantage West Midlands banner – would be included in a West Midlands authority.
“Solihull have made it quite clear that they don’t want to consider a combined authority,” Sir Albert said.
“They are happy with the current arrangements, which are the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP (local enterprise partnership) arrangements.
“That puts me in a position where I don’t think that is the optimum economic geography for the sub-region.
“Leaving Solihull out of the Greater Birmingham and Black Country area would also be madness. Solihull needs to be part of it, just as the Black Country needs to be part of it.
“But we need those discussions to begin with, and then we move on to talk about whether Coventry, Warwickshire, Bedworth and so on, would be another economic sub-region.
“But the starting point has to be about the principles of creating something to deal with strategic transport, growth, housing and skills. Those are the agendas which need to be resolved at a city region level.”
Sir Albert said talks were taking place about a new economic geography for the region – which may be badged Greater Birmingham, but the areas covered by the current Greater Birmingham and Black Country LEPs were “a good starting point”.
The leaders of councils in Sandwell and Wolverhampton have already expressed a desire to be a part of a wider authority.
However, Solihull – crucially home to the airport and proposed HS2 station and UK Central development – would be a vital cog.
The conclusion of talks is potentially vital, with Labour leader Ed Miliband announcing a £20 billion pot for transport, housing and training schemes for regions.
However, he warned areas would have to put aside historic differences and come together.
Coun Bore added: “There is a huge argument for Coventry being a separate city region or county region because there is very little travel to work between Coventry and Birmingham, but there is significant travel to work between Coventry and Warwickshire.
“If you were looking at this on a travel-to-work footprint you might try to create two geographies, one which is the conurbation and the other which is based around Coventry.
“Then in strategic transport terms you would talk about the links between those two poles.”
He continued: “There is this tension between those who argue for keeping together the old West Midlands county and those starting with a clean sheet of paper and building afresh.
“I think I sit in the latter camp.
“My starting point would be the Black Country and the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP and see where we go from there.”
But Solihull Council leader Coun Ken Meeson said a combined authority would also destroy the “very successful” Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership and create “an artificial combination of councils”.
He added: “Solihull does not believe that the proposal to effectively recreate the old West Midlands County Council is the right way to go. WMCC was always an artificial grouping in which individual councils struggled to maintain identity. The creation of a City Region under the previous government was also abandoned because of tensions between Birmingham and Coventry.”
He added: “Mention is often made of Great Manchester, but this is a voluntary grouping of a number of urban Metropolitan Councils of roughly equal size - unlike the West Midlands where Birmingham dwarfs its neighbours.”