Andy Street: More powers are key if the West Midlands is to unlock its potential

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street explains why he backs Lord Heseltine's call for extra powers.

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street
West Midlands Mayor Andy Street

Here in the West Midlands, amid the Victorian splendour of Birmingham Town Hall, I this week welcomed my fellow elected mayors Andy Burnham, James Palmer, Tim Bowles and Steve Rotheram – along with Joanna McCarthy, the Deputy Mayor of London – to support Lord Heseltine as he launched a landmark report on the future of English devolution.

Entitled ‘Empowering English Cities’, this 115-page document represents a comprehensive account of not only the story of regional devolution so far, it also makes bold and ambitious recommendations as to how we should proceed – with the central theme of ensuring our great cities can compete on fair terms with similar conurbations around the globe, writes Andy Street.

With the inertia created by Brexit, key policy decisions such as the future direction of devolution are at risk of falling by the wayside and I hope this document, and its bold vision, encourages not only similar ambitious thought but real action.

The rationale behind devolution – that key decisions should be taken near the action by stakeholders who understand local issues and are directly affected by them – was the driving force behind the creation of our Combined Authorities. I have always believed that there should be clear evidence to back-up further transfer of powers to the regions, and now we have it. The value of devolution is there to see.

Against the backdrop of the leadership election, here is an idea whose time has come. As our potential PMs look around for fertile areas of growth, they must conclude that our city regions offer huge opportunities, if allowed to unleash their potential. Devolution is an idea that has been shown enough light to take root, but now needs wholesale embracing to flourish.

Boris Johnson, as the former mayor of London, our biggest devolved authority, understands the true value of local decision-making and initiative.

Jeremy Hunt, after leading the NHS for so long, knows how passionate local organisations can flourish if given the powers and responsibility to make their own decisions.

Today’s ambitious vision for the next level of devolution is being offered at a time that is ripe for both candidates to embrace and champion it.

Lord Heseltine was commissioned by the West Midlands Combined Authority to create this ground-breaking report.

Before making its recommendations, the document considers the devolution landscape as it is today, assessing the relationship of our combined authorities with Whitehall, the cycle of elections, mayors’ powers and the political wrangling that can frustrate progress.

Lord Heseltine worked at length with myself and my fellow elected mayors to understand the challenges we face.

The report also looks in detail at six dynamic international cities that represent our competition – Rotterdam, Lyon, Frankfurt, Milan, Chicago and Sapporo – and considers their differing structures and practices.

The underperformance of our major cities on the world stage is a critical problem that must be solved if we are to balance our economy and drive growth across England. This report sets out the advantages that our competitors enjoy, such as more fiscal autonomy and powerful mayors.

The results are 20 recommendations that demand real, immediate change at a national and regional level to supercharge our devolved authorities, make our cities competitive on the international stage, and create a more balanced UK by releasing regional potential.

Lord Heseltine’s report lays out fundamental changes to how we run our regions, the structure and influence of Whitehall and the boundaries that surround us to harness local talent and unleash enterprise that embraces more people and distributes its benefits more widely.

I applaud the report’s ambition and candour and I am proud to have been able to host its launch in Birmingham.

Its message is direct: If we are serious about rebalancing our economy, time is of the essence.

As Lord Heseltine so succinctly puts it: “Change is not about them, or him, or her, or it. It is about us. Today. Now.”

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