Introductions by Richard Hatcher (Birmingham City University and NUT delegate to BTUC) and Jane Nellist (secretary, Coventry TUC)
The WMCA will be responsible for economic strategy in the West Midlands, including ‘employability’ and ‘skills development’. But it is also taking over responsibility for a whole range of public services including housing, transport, land use, the police and fire services, and ‘mental health’, with others, such as children’s social care, to be added. And of course it is committed to ‘public sector reform’, which means privatisations and cuts in services and jobs.
So it has huge implications for workers in both the public and private sectors and for the users of services – in fact for every community and every family in the West Midlands.
What voice then will we have, whether as citizens, as trade unions, or as communities, in the WMCA? Very little. All the power is in the hands of 8 people – the 7 Council leaders in the WMCA Cabinet and the Mayor, elected every 4 years, together with business representatives from the Local Enterprise Partnerships. There will be no elected West Midlands Assembly (as there is in London) to hold them to account.
There will no doubt be committees on which trade unions and third sector organisations will be allowed representatives. But these will not be the important committees where the strategic decisions are taken.
So how should the trade union movement and the wider community respond? Of course we will take up whatever places are offered and negotiate the best deals we can for our members and for the wider community. But we also have to campaign for major reforms in the WMCA. Devolution is a process not a one-off event, the WMCA will evolve, and there are three vital changes that we need to campaign for:
- Defend and improve public services – no cuts in jobs and services
- For an economic strategy that creates well-paid jobs and is committed to social need and social justice not just private profit
- Democratise the WMCA – open it up to public and union participation and accountability
For a detailed analysis of Combined Authorities see https://birminghamagainstthecuts.wordpress.com/2016/02/14/what-is-wrong-with-the-west-midlands-combined-authority-and-what-we-can-do-about-it/