Districts surrounding the emerging West Midlands Combined Authority are split over whether to join the new body, LGC research has found.
However, Telford & Wrekin Council has voted to become a non-constituent member. This mark’s an about-turn from the unitary’s position at the start of the year when leader Kuldip Sahota (Lab) told LGC the authority had no intention of joining a combined authority.
Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton city councils and Dudley and Solihull MBCs have formally voted to set up the new entity, and Sandwell and Walsall MBCs are expected to follow suit this month, a combined authority spokeswoman said.
However, for the combined authority to be coterminous with the boundary of the region’s three local enterprise partnerships, something the government has indicated it would prefer, 13 other local authorities would need to sign up as non-constituent, non-voting members. This week saw the last of these councils vote on the plans.
Telford & Wrekin cabinet business lead Shaun Davies (Lab) said in a council video message: “Being a non-constituent member means we will be at the table where government will be talking about large funding for transport and regeneration and it puts us at the heart of that negotiating, which is important at a time when government is talking about devolution.
“It is foolish to think we could influence big infrastructure [decisions] if we are not in that room.”
In Staffordshire, Cannock Chase DC and Tamworth BC have also voted to become non-constituent members, however, South Staffordshire Council, East Staffordshire BC and Lichfield DC have so far chosen not to join.
In Worcestershire Redditch BC has joined but Bromsgrove DC has not.
Th split has led to anomalies such as Telford & Wrekin being geographically detached from the rest of the combined authority by South Staffordshire Council, and a similar situation with Redditch and Bromsgrove.
In Warwickshire, only Nuneaton & Bedworth BC has joined. Rugby BC has voted to continue negotiations with the combined authority and “review its decision when the final form of the combined authority is known”.
Jerry Hutchinson, chief executive of North Warwickshire BC, said: “The decision was made because it was not clear what the status of non-constituent members would be, but we did not rule out joining at further date once the devolution deal is clear.”
Lichfield BC leader Mike Wilcox (Con) said: “I was initially very much in favour of joining but my view changed because of the lack of clarity about governance arrangements.
“There were a number of factors and one was a feeling that there was not enough information available and things seemed to be changing daily. There was concern about the role non-constituent members would play.”
Cllr Wilcox said Stoke-on-Trent City Council and councils in Staffordshire would meet soon to decide whether to table a devolution bid.
“That is a bit late in the day perhaps, but we wanted to see what that might bring and it was difficult to articulate the benefits of joining the West Midlands now”, he added.
Despite being unable to attract all of the councils within the region’s three local enterprise partnerships, combined authority chair Bob Sleigh (Con) told LGC the body “still retains integrity” as it had the formal backing of the three LEPs.
However, a separate strategic economic plan is now being developed to reflect the views of combined authority members, said Cllr Sleigh, who is also Solihull’s leader.
He added: “Where the investment goes is a matter for the constituent and non-constituent members in the combined authority. It doesn’t alter the fact that the local enterprise partnerships have separate strategic economic plans which would impact on all of those areas so we will just have to see how that works.”
Cllr Sleigh said there were ongoing discussions with all of the councils in the three LEP areas and added: “I’m sure once people see what this is all about and how the voting rights work…they will see it is in their interests [to join] also.”
This story was updated at 4.36pm on 19 October to include a comment from Cllr Bob Sleigh