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Siôn Simon: West Midlands governance plans exclude mayor

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Labour’s candidate to become the first elected mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority has said the position should be afforded greater powers than those in the current proposals.

Siôn Simon told LGC under the current proposed governance arrangements the mayor could be excluded from influencing key decisions, undermining attempts to make progress in key policy areas.

Under current voting proposals, a decision backed by a majority of members of the combined authority on public transport, economic development and regeneration are not subject to a vote in favour by the mayor.

Mr Simon, former MP for Birmingham Erdington and current MEP for the West Midlands, said: “I have said all along that the whole project will succeed or fail on consensus, but the way the current mayoral scheme is drafted does not enable that.

“[The current proposal] attempts to exclude the mayor from the collaboration we need.”

The West Midlands devolution deal agreed last November included 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.

Under the current governance proposals the mayor would exercise responsibility for areas including the consolidated transport budget, grants to bus operators and assessments of the road network.

Mr Simon said his priorities as mayor would be in line with the “central direction of travel” of the combined authority, highlighting the importance of creating jobs, improving transport and housing and boosting economic growth.

He pledged to help develop the West Midlands as the UK financial centre outside London, adding the region could benefit from uncertainty among some companies based in The City of London as a result of the vote to leave the European Union.

He said: “Companies could find themselves under revenue and cost pressures and would not necessarily want to relocate to a different jurisdiction.

“I know already of several significant players who are having these thoughts and discussions on relocating to another high quality financial centre, without the added costs and a better way of life.”

Mr Simon said the West Midlands needed an “explicit and bespoke” post-Brexit settlement which acknowledges the specific requirements of the region, including the large proportion of the regional economy that relies on exports.

“None of the current discussions seem to take account of the different needs of manufacturing as services and financial sectors are dominating,” he added.

Mr Simon’s main opponent is expected to be Andy Street, John Lewis managing director and chair of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership.

But Mr Simon said he is confident he will triumph in the mayoral election in May next year, with six of the seven metropolitan councils within the combined authority controlled by Labour.

He added that he would look to nurture a collective sense of identity despite the region’s large geographical area.

“I am conscious the public is not there yet - people do not identify as West Midlanders, but we have so much in common - interdependent economies shared culture and history,” Mr Simon said.

Bob Sleigh (Con) chair of the West Midlands Combined Authority, said: “The current mayoral powers match this particular deal but discussions on further devolution for the West Midlands continue and we would anticipate that the government would want to negotiate further powers as that process continues.

“The mayor, whoever he or she may be, has a key role to play as a champion for the West Midlands, promoting our strengths and talents around the world. Our goal is to release untapped economic growth and jobs, provide new transport infrastructure and housing and ultimately deliver increased prosperity for the people of the West Midlands.”

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