SOLIHULL RESIDENTS are being urged to have their say on the future of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) before it is too late.
The call comes amidst concerns leaders are steamrolling ahead without waiting for the results of public consultations.
The people of Solihull now have just days (until Monday, August 31) to give their opinions on the borough’s involvement in forming a regional authority with Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton.
But there are fears Solihull’s involvement in the WMCA is already a foregone conclusion following the announcement that the Council leaders of the seven authorities have established a ‘West Midlands Combined Authority Shadow Board’ – with Solihull’s council leader Coun Bob Sleigh at the helm as its Chair.
It is understood the interim ‘shadow board’ will become the board of the WMCA if it is to go ahead next April, with Vice Chair, Sandwell Council’s Coun Darren Cooper, tweeting: “Inaugural meeting of the shadow WMCA. Coun Bob Sleigh elected Chair and myself as Vice Chair. Historical [sic] day for our region.”
Solihull Council granted Coun Sleigh the ability to enter into ‘engagement and consultation’ over WMCA plans with other leaders at a Council meeting on July 14.
But, with full Council set to make a final decision about Solihull’s involvement in the WMCA on October 13, there is concern local people could be shut out of key decisions that affect them.
The proposed formation of the WMCA follows government announcements that it wants to devolve power to newly-established regional authorities to decide how they spend money on skills, transport connectivity, and economic regeneration.
Conservative chancellor George Osborne has said combined authorities must be headed by elected mayors – so-called ‘metro mayors’ – to qualify for the “full suite of powers” offered by government.
It could include powers over the police and NHS, in addition to some powers over housing and planning, economic development and transport.
Services such as setting the Council Tax and bin collections would still remain in the remit of local Councils.
Coun Bob Sleigh told The Observer his appointment as Chair was a positive step for the borough – arguing it is important Solihull played a key role in steering the Combined Authority discussions.
He added: “We are the economic driver for the West Midlands – we have all the key aspects in Solihull and it’s important that Solihull Council take a prominent position in framing what a Combined Authority is.
“What I want to make sure is that through the economic plus model that Solihull’s economy growth is accelerated through the creation of a combined authority.”
But, when posed the question of what would happen if the people of Solihull were opposed to the WMCA plans, Coun Sleigh replied the decision is ‘a matter for Solihull Council.’
Green Party councillor, James Burn, Leader of the official opposition on Solihull Council, said while he and his fellow councillors congratulate Coun Sleigh on his appointment they are worried at ‘the pace the Combined Authority is progressing’.
He added: “It took Greater Manchester five years to get to this point, but Greater Birmingham has taken just 5 months.
“Really important decisions about the Combined Authority are being taken before Solihull people have had their say.
“People I’ve spoken to here are worried that the current plans may only benefit big-business owners with everyone else getting the crumbs.
“It is concerning that the people of Coventry and Sandwell are campaining for a referendum on the Combined Authority decision but the people of Solihull are being asked for their opinions on plans that are completely speculative.
“It’s hard to have a consultation when there are no concrete proposals to have an opinion on.”
More information on the Combined authority can be found online at www.solihull.gov.uk/combinedauthority and http://www.westmidlandscombinedauthority.org.uk
Solihull residents can also have their say on the WMCA by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org