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West Midlands pressures PM for more powers

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Leaders in the West Midlands are seeking more devolved powers and controls from government.

Ahead of the Conservative party conference arriving in Birmingham this week, the chair of the West Midlands Combined Authority Bob Sleigh (Con) has told prime minister Theresa May the region is “looking for more” powers.

Cllr Sleigh said in an open letter to Ms May the devolution deal agreed last November was “just the start”.

He said: ”We are looking for more and we want to show you in government how, by working together towards greater devolution, we can make a real difference to the people, businesses and organisations we represent – also helping to meet your social and economic goals.”

Martin Reeves, the interim chief executive of the West Midlands Combined Authority, told LGC in June that proposals focused on infrastructure and skills were being worked up with a view to securing a second devolution deal in the autumn.

The original agreement included adopting an elected mayor in return for control over an investment fund worth up to £1bn over 30 years, responsibility for consolidated transport budgets and franchised bus services, housing powers, control of adult skills funding from 2018-19, and leading a review of post-16 education.

LGC reported earlier this month how Siôn Simon, Labour’s candidate to become the first elected mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority, said the position should be afforded greater powers than those in the current proposals.

In August Ms May confirmed her commitment to creating a Midlands Engine, as well as a Northern Powerhouse.

Open letter to Prime Minister Theresa May from West Midlands Combined Authority chair Bob Sleigh on behalf of the region’s leaders:

Dear Prime Minister,

On behalf of the West Midlands Combined Authority I look forward to welcoming you and your government colleagues this weekend to the best region in the UK to do business.

We are delighted this year’s Conservative Party conference is being hosted by Birmingham, right at the heart of the country, giving you the chance to meet people here and understand the scope of our ambitions.

We know from your own – very much welcomed – comments in a recent Birmingham Post & Mail article that you see the Midlands as a key player in rebalancing the UK economy. We are delighted that you recognise the value of what we are already doing here.

The West Midlands has long been an economic driver for both the UK and Europe, and the formation of the combined authority has instilled confidence and encouraged even greater aspirations for the region.

You urge us to be ambitious and we are. We want to know more about how you define that and we will rise to those challenges.

Our own vision is an ambitious West Midlands working with government to deliver major investment to guarantee future prosperity.

Last November the government agreed with WMCA the biggest devolution deal in the country and we are very happy with that – but we are also very clear that we see this as just the start.

We are looking for more and we want to show you in government how, by working together towards greater devolution, we can make a real difference to the people, businesses and organisations we represent – also helping to meet your social and economic goals.

Over the past 18 months WMCA has already proven itself on many levels.

We have negotiated an unprecedented Devolution Agreement to unlock £8bn of investment into the region over the next 30 years, delivering the means to finance our goals of creating up to half a million jobs.

We have shown we can work effectively together as a combined authority and collaboratively with a range of partners. We have produced a plan to improve the quality of life for everyone who lives and works in the region, meeting future housing demand and boosting people’s health and wellbeing.

That Strategic Economic Plan, Making Our Mark, based on our proud manufacturing history, central location and track record in innovation, articulates how a stronger West Midlands is not just good for local people and businesses, but the whole of the UK.

I am confident that the WMCA, working with the Midlands Engine and Midlands Connect, can capitalise on HS2 and ensure it combines with our global business assets to create the UK’s biggest investment opportunity and secure the region’s future economic wealth.

The conference is a chance for us and our regional partners in both the public and private sectors to build fresh relationships with new ministerial teams and decision makers.

We look forward to it.

Cllr Bob Sleigh, chair of the West Midlands Combined Authority

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