What should the Mayor for the West Midlands Combined Authority stand for?

  •  Economic growth for social needs and well-paid jobs, not just private profit
  • Improved public services, not more cuts
  • Democracy – public participation in decision-making, not top-down diktats

In May next year we will elect a Mayor for the WMCA. Candidates are already starting their campaigns.  The Mayor will have wide-ranging powers and responsibilities – in conjunction with the WMCA Board, local councils and business leaders in the Local Enterprise Partnerships – that will affect every citizen, family and community in the West Midlands.

  • control of an additional £36.5 million a year over 30 years, to be invested to drive growth
  • power to retain 100% of any additional business rates income raised through economic growth
  • power to increase business rates by up to 2% to fund investment in infrastructure schemes
  • power to raise the council tax
  • planning powers over housing and land use
  • a business support and inward investment system
  • 19+ adult skills provision
  • a local employment service
  • FE funding
  • the transport budget, including franchised bus services and integrated ticketing
  • “public service reform”, including mental health, “troubled individuals”, the youth justice services, and children’s social care (in progress)
  • the police and fire services (currently being negotiated)

We welcome devolution (provided it doesn’t increase regional inequalities). We want more local democracy as against highly centralised government control. But the WMCA is a Tory government model imposed by Osborne, based on

  • An economic agenda driven by private profit not local need
  • ‘Public service reform’ at the expense of service cuts and workers’ jobs and conditions
  • Top-down decision-making with no local democratic participation

But existing WMCA policies are not set in stone – they can be challenged and changed

  • Economic growth

The WMCA policy for the economy is just about private profit: “Our objectives must be to amplify the competitiveness, productivity and profitability of private sector enterprise” (Launch Statement, July 2015). No mention of an economic policy to meet the needs of families and communities.

They claim that the WMCA will attract huge private investment beyond what the West Midlands already attracts. No evidence is offered as to where it would come from, and now Brexit is likely to reduce it. We need investment, backed by government where needed, for social priorities and well-paid jobs, not for the profits of property investors and stock-market gamblers. The WMCA claims HS2 will create 100,000 jobs. We say this is fantasy and there are much more important priorities for the West Midlands economy – such as housing and local public transport, and the revival of manufacturing.

We want a Mayor who stands for an alternative economic strategy for the people of the West Midlands based on meeting social priorities, growing the green economy, and creating well-paid jobs.

  • Public services

This is the current WMCA policy:  “Our pursuit of growth will be accompanied by an agenda of innovation and public service reform that will reduce the overall level of public spending.” (WMCA Devolution Agreement, November 2015)

We say: the WMCA must not become an instrument for relaying the ongoing savage cuts in public sector budgets and handing public services over for private profit through outsourcing and privatisation.

We want a Mayor who stands for the defence and improvement of public services, the protection and improvement of jobs and conditions and the involvement of workers and service users in policy decisions.

  • Democracy and public participation

 The WMCA is highly undemocratic – it is run by just the 14 leaders of the 7 Councils and the directly elected Mayor – almost all male and white. There are a dozen or so committees on the various issues the WMCA has power over. They include employers representing the 3 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), but no representatives of ordinary citizens, of trade unions or of communities and their organisations.

 How is the WMCA to be held to account? There will be no elected Assembly to do so – as there is in London, or in Wales with a similar population. Instead it is supposed to be held to account on its huge range of issues by a Scrutiny Committee which consists of 16 councillors and is scheduled to meet for 2 hours 4 times a year. Again, it includes the 3 LEPs but no representatives of unions or  communities.

The House of Commons Committee report on the CAs, Devolution: the next five years and beyond, published in February, delivers a damning judgement on the exclusion of public participation and says: ”the overview and scrutiny requirements in the Bill are an initial framework to be used as a basis for more robust provisions […]. These should be developed […] as a result of deliberate efforts to hold active discussions at local level, with residents involved in designing new and more open methods of scrutiny.”  We call on all candidates for Mayor to state their plans to do this.

We want a Mayor who stands for a thoroughgoing democratisation of the WMCA’s deeply undemocratic power structure to ensure the full participation of communities, employees and citizens in its decision-making.  Here is how to do it:

  • The Constitution of the WMCA doesn’t exclude the option of an elected Assembly. If it’s right for London why isn’t it right for the West Midlands?
  • And why not start with a WMCA elected Forum of representatives of local communities, trade unions, and users of services, with at least advisory powers?
  • Co-opt union and community organisation delegates onto the WMCA Board. This is permitted by the WMCA constitution. If the employers have representatives (via the LEPs), why not the employees?
  • Co-opt elected delegates from union, community and user bodies on to WMCA Scrutiny committees, again as permitted by the WMCA constitution.
  • Co-opt relevant stakeholders including service users and trade union representatives onto the Productivity, Land and Mental Health commissions.
  • Establish inclusive and powerful committees for each of the 7 Portfolio issues – employment and ‘skills’, housing, etc – made up of representatives of all the including delegates from wider forums.

 The West Midlands Combined Authority – what it is and what it should be

For a People’s Plan for the WMCA

Birmingham Against the Cuts Public Meeting

Tuesday 4 October 7pm, Council House

Visit our website at birminghamagainstthecuts.wordpress.com for regular news and analysis of the WMCA and other  campaigns.  Contact us at BirminghamAgainstTheCuts@gmail.com

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