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West Mids devo deal opens door to police powers and business rates levy

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The police and crime commissioner role could be incorporated into the West Midlands mayor’s responsibilities in time for the next election in 2020, under the region’s second devolution deal.

West Midlands mayor Andy Street

 

West Midlands mayor Andy Street

Announced at this week’s Budget, the deal also commits the government to exploring the possibility of granting the West Midlands mayor the power to raise a levy on business rates but contains very little in terms of new devolved powers.

Billed as “the next big step in the West Midlands devolution process”, LGC has analysed the official 20-page document which bears the logos of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and the Treasury but no other government department.

West Midlands mayor Andy Street (Con) said securing a second devolution deal “reflects the government’s confidence in our ambitions and ability to deliver for the region”.

The main details of the deal, which is still subject to local and parliamentary approval, where applicable, are highlighted below:

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Finance

When the Local Government Finance Bill was ditched at the end of the last parliament, with it went plans to allow combined authority mayors to raise a levy on business rates for infrastructure projects.

In an interview with LGC after his election, West Midlands mayor Andy Street (Con) admitted he would have to “rework” some of the major infrastructure plans in his manifesto as a result. He subsequently set up the West Midlands finance commission to explore new sources of investment – it is due to report by the end of the year.

However, the West Midlands’ second devolution deal states: “The government will, subject to the agreement of Parliament, provide for the mayor of the WMCA to have the power to introduce a business rate supplement, which would be subject to a ballot of affected businesses.”

The government will also “reach agreement on a debt cap” with the combined authority so it can “extend the WMCA’s borrowing powers to align with the WMCA’s functions” and responsibilities and provide the organisation with “flexibility” to “invest in economically productive infrastructure”.

The WMCA is to also get a share of a new £12m fund for mayoral combined authorities which will be used to “support the new mayors by boosting their capacity and resources to deliver for their local area”.

mayor copy

mayor copy

The mayor’s role

As has already happened in Greater Manchester, the West Midlands mayor looks set to gain police and crime commissioner duties – something the region’s original devolution deal said would be looked into. The new agreement says the government will work with the WMCA and PCC to “agree a detailed governance model and a legislative timetable for incorporating” the two roles “with a view to electing the first mayor with these [PCC] powers in 2020”.

Similarly building on the original deal, the government will also be engaged in looking at a proposal to “integrate” the West Midlands Fire and Rescue Service with the WMCA.

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train copy

Transport

At the beginning of the week, an announcement that the West Midlands will get £250m from the government’s transforming cities fund grabbed plenty of headlines.

The money will be used to fund an extension to the region’s metro system from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill. The devolution deal states that “appropriate assurance processes” will be put in place “to enable development of robust business cases and scheme appraisals”. The agreement adds the government will work with the WMCA to “refine its scheme and assess financing and delivery options”.

Housing logo

Housing logo

Housing

Oxfordshire this week became the first place to secure a housing deal, although the West Midlands, among other areas, is in discussions about gaining a similar agreement.

The devolution deal document refers to “continuing” discussions about a housing deal for the West Midlands but indicates again that strings will be attached. “Key requirements that areas must deliver in order to agree a housing deal with government will be addressed as part of future housing deal discussions,” the agreement states.

The WMCA will, however, get £6m over three years, starting this financial year, to “support a new mayoral housing delivery team”, while the region is to also  pilot the ‘housing first’ approach as part of a £28m initiative which will also be trialled in the Liverpool City Region and Greater Manchester.

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industry copy

Industrial strategy

Like Greater Manchester, the West Midlands too is to work with the government to develop a “local industrial strategy”. This will, however, “reflect the main themes of the national industrial strategy”, although it is also meant to “take a place-based approach which builds on the area’s unique strengths”.

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construction copy

Skills and employment

The region will be able to “establish one of the first skills advisory panels” – a partnership between the WMCA, local employers, post-16 skills providers and central government – which will strategically plan for post-16 skills provision. The panel’s work and analysis will be taken into account when future capital funds are allocated to colleges – but this is an exercise already carried out by local enterprise partnerships under growth deals.

The government will “work with the WMCA to test innovative new approaches to lifelong learning through a career learning pilot in the West Midlands”. The aim of this is to help adults “upskill and reskill”.

There is also a commitment that the WMCA and the government will “jointly develop and adopt” an agreement to better co-ordinate the region’s employment, skills and health services with a view to getting more people into work.

The WMCA will get £5m over the next three years to fund a local construction training programme.

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