Do a deal on Greater Birmingham by Christmas or we're off, Black Country leaders say
Council leaders in the Black Country have given Birmingham an ultimatum over plans for a combined authority: sign it by Christmas or a deal will be sought with South Staffordshire and Telford and Wrekin instead.
The councils want to team up on transport, marketing and regeneration to attract investment from big businesses and government.
But there is concern about the idea of the name Greater Birmingham being used amid fears it will destroy the individual identity of the Black Country.
Today, Councillor Darren Cooper, leader of Sandwell Council and chairman of the Black Country joint committee, said the four boroughs would go elsewhere unless Birmingham City Council could agree on a committee by Christmas. But he stressed that Wolverhampton, Walsall, Sandwell and Dudley would not lose their individual identities.
The Labour leader said: "This has gone on long enough.
"There are combined authorities in other parts of the country and we're being left behind.
"If this isn't done by Christmas then the Black Country will look elsewhere - South Staffordshire, Telford and Wrekin and other conurbations - to work together."
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The urgency is there because of the impending General Election next May, with councillors keen to have a structure in place ready to start seeking funding as soon as the next Government is formed.
However, Councillor Brian Edwards, leader of South Staffordshire Council, is not keen on the idea of a combined authority.
He said: "No-one's spoken to me about this yet. We already work closely with the Black Country. The i54 is an example of that. We'd always work with them to mutual benefit. But we're happy being part of Staffordshire."
And Councillor Kuldip Singh Sahota, leader of Telford and Wrekin Council, said: "I have not heard of this idea before. As it stands we are getting on with providing front line services and we've done very well with the £250 million Southwater leisure development."
Sarah Norman, the incoming chief executive of Dudley Council, has been tasked by Councillor Sparks with building relationships with other organisations as part of moves towards the combined authority.
And Councillor Lawrence added: "Darren Cooper threw down the gauntlet to set a timescale. Marketing Birmingham (the council funded marketing body) already does work for the Black Country.
"It's a joined up approach to economic regeneration. There are big issues that cross borders.
"There are combined authorities for Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, the North East. But that doesn't mean that places like Oldham, Bolton, the Wirral, Newcastle or Sunderland have disappeared or lost their identities. "This is about working together, not being taken over."
Councillor Sir Albert Bore, leader of Birmingham City Council, told a Think Birmingham event in the city's Council House: "Make no mistake. Combined authorities, or something very like them, are now the only show in town. My sense is that the main parties have now settled on that as the way forward.
"Five of the core city regions have already adopted a combined authority and leaders in the West Midlands are acutely aware that we must put in place our own strengthened arrangements if we are not to get left behind and lose out in terms of resources and freedoms."
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