At the WMCA Board Meeting on 17 February it was agreed “that the Trade Union Congress (TUC) be co-opted (1 seat) onto the WMCA Board” and have “a seat on relevant working groups”, with voice but no vote.
This could be one small step towards opening up the Combined Authority to participation so the citizens of the West Midlands have a voice in its policies. It does not displace the business dominance of the WMCA but it does have the potential to challenge it. But there is a danger that it could be just a token concession to keep the unions quiet.
One seat on the Board is better than none, but the employers’ reps from the Local Enterprise Partnerships have three places. And union seats on working groups are nothing new – the Board agreed that last June. That still leaves the key strategic bodies such as the Strategic Economic Plan Board, the Public Sector Reform Board and the Scrutiny Committee – all of which have employers’ reps but no union reps .
Ever since the WMCA was launched in 2015 Birmingham Against the Cuts has called for it to be opened up to democratic participation, not just by the unions but by community organisations and service user groups, and for an elected Assembly to make the WMCA publicly accountable and responsive.
In December 2016 a powerful boost was given to the campaign for democratising the WMCA when Unison in the West Midlands published a manifesto for the West Midlands Mayor election. It called for union reps at every level, the opening up of Scrutiny, and a West Midlands Assembly.
The WMCA has powers over a whole range of issues from economic growth, skills and employment to housing, transport, and mental health. The task now is to make sure that the unions make full use of the places they are granted and continue to press for seats on every WMCA committee and Commission for representatives of the unions and the citizens of the West Midlands.