Express & Star

'Deeper' devolution deal hailed as 'major step forward' for West Midlands

The West Midlands has been given new powers and a windfall of more than £1.5bn in a new "deeper" devolution deal.

Last updated
West Midlands Mayor Andy Street has welcomed the region's new devolution deal

Under measures announced by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt as part of the Budget, the region will get 100 per cent business rates retention for 10 years – worth £450 million – as well as a single pot of funding after the next spending review.

The move will bring to an end what West Midlands Mayor Andy Street called a "begging bowl culture", where regions are forced to bid against each other for Government cash.

The deal, which has been described as a "major step forward" by Mr Street, also includes up to £500m for brownfield regeneration and affordable housing, and a commitment to a second round of funding for major transport projects.

One of 12 low-tax investment zones has been lined up for the region, which will also host up to six 'levelling up zones' that will benefit from 25 years business rates retention and targeted business support.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt made a number of announcements for the West Midlands in his Budget

The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) will also have greater responsibility over careers advice, and more control over public transport through devolution of the bus service operators grant and a new partnership with Great British Railways.

In separate measures announced, Sandwell and Walsall have been chosen to enter into 'levelling up partnerships' with the Government aimed at boosting regeneration. A total of £22.5m has been allocated to revamp Tipton town centre, while Wolverhampton has also been earmarked for regeneration funding.

Meanwhile £60m has been awarded for the Wednesbury to Brierley Hill Metro line.

Labour says the deal goes "nowhere near far enough" and would not "guarantee" the region's prosperity.

But Mr Street insisted it was a "major step forward" for the West Midlands, with "significant new powers and funding secured".

He said: "We’re deepening devolution by building on previous deals and further empowering local leadership with the financial autonomy and decision-making authority that they are best placed to deploy.

"No one in Whitehall can understand the West Midlands better than local leaders, and so there is no doubt in my mind that we should be empowered to shape our future – which is exactly what this new deal will allow us to do.

“I recently called for an end to the ‘begging bowl culture’ which confined us to regularly submitting bids for various pots of money in competition with other regions. I’m pleased to see that this new devolution deal goes some way to addressing that - giving us guaranteed devolved funding to spend how we choose, akin to what Government departments have currently, and doing away with Whitehall micromanagement.

"Since 2017, we’ve demonstrated a solid track record in building more homes whilst protecting the green belt, improving peoples’ skills to help them find quality work, increasing transport investment sevenfold and tackling the climate emergency. This is why the Government is trusting us and granting us greater responsibility - and accountability - to deliver even more.

"Today is a milestone day for the West Midlands."

Walsall North MP Eddie Hughes said it was great news that Walsall had been chosen as a location for a levelling up partnership after he had lobbied the Chancellor.

He said: "Having successfully lobbied for considerable investment across the borough, we have looked at ways to truly deliver on regeneration potential locally.

"I'm delighted he has now chosen Walsall as a location for a levelling up partnership to help unlock barriers to growth, working with local stakeholders."

West Bromwich West MP Shaun Bailey has campaigned for levelling up cash for Tipton

West Bromwich West MP Shaun Bailey hailed the cash awarded for Tipton, which comes just weeks after a bid from the Levelling Up Fund was turned down.

He said: "I have worked tirelessly ever since to keep up the fight for more funding for Tipton, making sure that this area that has been neglected in London for so long still had someone fighting its corner.

"It's clear in this case that persistence pays off and I hope that this will be one of many funding wins for our area."

Richard Parker, prospective Labour candidate for West Midlands Mayor, said the devolution deal would not address the region's "huge skills gap" or significantly move forward its transport plans.

"Whilst we welcome any funding, it is clear that this deal goes nowhere near far enough," he said.

"I am worried that a lot of the funding announced was already coming to the West Midlands and has been re-packaged.

"Council-led levelling-up zones will be an opportunity to improve life chances in some of the areas the Tory government has left the furthest behind.

"But they don't go as far as what Labour has committed to in our next government: true devolution with the right powers in the right places to unlock local potential.

"This approach won’t start till 2025 and relies on business rates growth rather than fresh investment from the Government.

"Fundamentally we still don’t have a strategy for growth in the West Midlands and without that our prosperity can’t be guaranteed."