The chief executive of the West Midlands CA has said the body is not local government and called for an end to “combative” negotiations with central government over further devolution.
Speaking at the New Local Government Network conference at the Guildhall in London yesterday, Deborah Cadman said working for mayor Andy Street (Con), the former managing director of John Lewis, made her role feel “different” from working in local government.
When questioned on what councils can expect to happen in unpredictable times, she said: “It’s about you - I’m not local government, I’m a combined authority.”
When later questioned further on her comment, the former chief executive of Suffolk CC said: “I don’t think [combined authorities] are [part of local government]. That is the beauty of them.
“I think there are freedoms and flexibilities in the mayors’ powers that leaders of place don’t have. That does make it feel different.”
She later conceded that combined authorities are “of” local government as “I can’t deliver the half a million new jobs we are trying to do and that massive investment. I can’t do that directly, I have to do that through local government.”
Appearing alongside Ms Cadman, Manchester City Council leader Richard Leese (Lab) disagreed with Ms Cadman’s view.
He said: “Combined authorities are fundamentally local government. They were created in that way.
“In a combined authority, local authorities are the leader. Statutorily they are local authorities, in terms of their functions they are local authorities.
“Combined authorities happened because local authorities asked for them. In terms of what happens next with local government, [combined authorities] were not something central government asked us to do, it will be some local government itself says ’this is what we ought to be doing’.”
In response Ms Cadman said: “I feel different from you, Richard, because my mayor is from the private sector and has a different view of the world, so it can feel slightly different.”
Ms Cadman earlier said a “new phase” of devolution was beginning and bemoaned the friction between the combined authority and government during talks on a second deal for the West Midlands, which was announced in November’s Budget and committed the government to exploring the possibility of granting the mayor power to raise a levy on business rates.
She said: “It did drive me slightly insane before Christmas when we were trying to negotiate our previous devo deal.
“My view is it doesn’t need to be like that. It doesn’t need to be this combative kind of approach where you get your homework marked or you are literally horse trading millions of pounds about investment.”
She added that further deals should be treated as “a shared endeavour” as combined authorities and the government both want to improve housing, transport, infrastructure and skills.
Ms Cadman said: “If we all want the same thing, why do we operate in a way where we make it so difficult for each other to achieve that?
“I am trying to have a new conversation with government. We are on the start of that road. I am really hopeful that working in collaboration with government in a different way will allow us all to achieve that same purpose.”