Proposals focused on infrastructure and skills are being worked up with a view to the West Midlands securing a second devolution deal in the autumn, according to the interim chief executive of the region’s combined authority.
In a wide-ranging interview with LGC, Martin Reeves (pictured) also addressed how the region plans to reassert itself, rumours about the region’s elected mayor’s annual salary, and his own future.
Mr Reeves said it had been a “surprise” that the combined authority’s planned official launch last week had been delayed after Labour Warely MP John Spellar lodged an official complaint in Parliament.
His objection, based on concerns about an elected mayor and the growing size and scale of the combined authority, prevented the legal order to create the combined authority from being passed and means MPs will have to vote on it. This is due to happen today and is widely expected to be passed.
Despite the delay, the West Midlands’ vision of using its devolved powers to create 500,000 new jobs and build 1.9 million homes over the next 20 years was published last Friday.
The devolution deal agreed last November 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.
Mr Reeves said the West Midlands was already working on the next phase.
“What’s on our shopping list now is to go even deeper and wider on infrastructure funding, and really grab skills and productivity,” he said. This could include looking at education from the early years onwards.
While fiscal devolution was unlikely to form part of any impending devolution deal, Mr Reeves said it was important to continue having the “difficult but necessary” conversations with government about it.
Although Greater Manchester had “set the pace” on the devolution agenda, Mr Reeves thought there was an economic “beast being unleashed in the West Midlands”.
“There’s a confidence that is emerging,” said Mr Reeves. “If there is something to catch up on then we’re doing that at pace but we are different [from Greater Manchester].”
Mr Reeves said improved transport links and increased productivity were key to delivering the region’s strategic economic plan. He added it would be important the combined authority delivered some “quick win” infrastructure projects “which wouldn’t have happened” without it so investors and the government can have confidence in the region’s plans.
“I expect to see hoardings going up with ‘Brought to you by the West Midlands Combined Authority’ – that’s tactically important just to get the confidence in the place,” he said.
The local press and regional blogs have reported the region’s mayor will be paid between £40,000 and £50,000 a year. That has led to concerns it will diminish the role.
Mr Reeves said there had been “absolutely no fixed discussion, view, or minute” about how much the mayor would be paid. Proposals will be drawn up over the summer, he said.
As interim chief Mr Reeves is dividing his time between the regional body and Coventry City Council where he is chief executive. He said it was “tough juggling” the workload and added it was “not sustainable in the long-term”.
Mr Reeves said there was “nothing in my ambitions or plans” to take on the interim role full-time after the May 2017 mayoral election when he is due to stand down, and that it would require “a different kind of leader” once an elected mayor is in post.
Meanwhile, Rugby BC councillors voted to join the WMCA as an associate member last Thursday leaving Warwick DC the only district in Warwickshire not signed up.