Give us more powers to help drive Covid recovery, leaders demand
Political leaders have called on the Government to grant more powers to the region to help it bounce back from the coronavirus pandemic.
The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has sent a list of demands to Ministers, arguing that the region’s economic recovery from Covid-19 will be swifter if control is shifted away from Whitehall.
They want more influence over how taxpayers’ cash is spent locally, as well as control over transport, housing – including the ability to set benefit levels – and large infrastructure projects.
The wish list has been submitted to Boris Johnson by West Midlands Mayor Andy Street and council leaders from the four Black Country boroughs, Birmingham, Coventry and Solihull. It also demands responsibility for the skills system for 16- to 18-year-olds and greater involvement in the regional energy market to tackle fuel poverty.
Mr Street said: “Devolution has unquestionably bettered the lives of people in the West Midlands, allowing us to make our own decisions locally rather than having them made for us from London.
“From full control over the adult education budget to our multi-million pound housing and land fund to remediate derelict industrial sites, devolution paved the way for our pre-Covid success – when we had a record number of homes being built, record numbers in work, and an economy growing faster than anywhere else outside of London.
“The pandemic has of course stalled that progress, but we must now look to devolution to get it back on track. With a greater say over how public funds are spent, more control over our transport systems, and more input into training for those looking to gain employment, new powers would help speed up our economic recovery, whilst also ensuring we can protect and create jobs for local people.
“People who live and work across the West Midlands were a critical part of its success story before the pandemic, and it is just as important they are central to the recovery as well.”
Birmingham City Council leader Ian Ward said local authorities must be “an integral part of this devolution”.
“It will not be possible for the West Midlands to rebuild and recover unless all local services are properly funded in the future, enabling health and wellbeing and local neighbourhoods and communities to be restored,” he added.
A recent report said the WMCA could face a black hole of £11m because of the pandemic, with falling transport revenue the key contributor. It also warned the funding gap could potentially rise to £31.4m over the next six years, prompting Mr Street to announce he was preparing to lobby Cabinet ministers for extra cash.
Mr Johnson’s administration this week agreed to hand over powers to the UK’s newest combined authority area, Yorkshire. The Government is currently considering its next devolution settlement.
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