REDDITCH borough councillors have voted in favour of the borough joining the new West Midlands Combined Authority as a non-constituent member.
Members voted 10-6 for the measure which will give Redditch a voice at the new authority – which is still being formed – without it being under the control of the proposed elected ‘Metro Mayor’ who would only lead the seven metropolitan authorities of the region, with Redditch retaining its independence.
Membership will cost £10,000 in set up costs with further costs of £25,000 per authority expected.
The combined authority is the brainchild of the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne MP and his desire to devolve powers to the regions and as a non-constituent member Redditch will have some say at the top table of the new authority without being a full voting member.
The decision also leaves the borough free to be part of any devolved Worcestershire authority which is currently under discussion at county hall.
In a topsy turvy but good humoured debate all the Conservative members bar one vote against the measure – despite it being driven by the Conservative government and backed by the town’s Tory MP – and all the Labour members voted for it.
Council leader Councillor Bill Hartnett, (Lab, Church Hill) whilst acknowledging that firm details were hard to come by and the time scale was hurried – a response is needed by October 12, said: “This is too big an opportunity to miss for Redditch with opportunities for growth, jobs, investment and improved transport.
“We have a chance to be part of the biggest combined authority in the country with well over 3.5 million people, almost the population of New Zealand. If we are at the table we can influence the decision and be part of this. If we are not we can’t.
“Business leaders are all for it and some have said it’s a good deal for Redditch, too good to miss.”
However Coun Brandon Clayton (Con, Ast Bk, Feckenham) felt the council was being asked to step into the unknown.
“There are too many ifs and buts – these are not clear proposals because this is an ongoing process and things are changing daily.
“I think we should wait until we know more, some flesh to go on these bones which will give us more of an insight.”
Coun David Thain (Con, Crabbs Cross) added: “Worcestershire is already the third fastest growing economic area in the UK and I do not want to become a building plot for Birmingham.
“This is an imposition and I will be voting against.”
His colleague Coun Tom Baker-Price (Con, H Cross, Oakenshaw) referring to the council document on the combined authority said: “After 139 pages we still have hundreds of questions and more importantly, no answers – we will have no say in the elected mayor and they will have no interest in us.”
Other Conservative colleagues worried about the record of Labour-controlled Birmingham as a local authority, to which Coun Hartnett replied that the current chairman was the Conservative leader of Solihull borough council.
From the Conservative ranks only Coun David Bush (Con, West) spoke of being undecided over which way to go: “My gut instinct is that we have to be involved and to get in there,” he said.
Coun Pat Witherspoon (Lab, Church Hill), who had sat in for Coun Hartnett at some of the combined authority meetings, said: “When I first went in my idea was that we would be taken over by Birmingham, and I thought, what have we got here, however since then I have completely turned around. I think we should be round the table from the beginning and saying what we want for the people of Redditch.
“I think we have to be bold and say we have got to be in there and I have no hesitation in saying we have to take this step for the people of Redditch. That is what we were elected for.”
Coun Andrew Fry (Lodge Park) reminding Coun Thain that Redditch became a building plot for Birmingham in 1964, added: “I think that £10,000 is a price worth paying because I believe thi is a journey needs to be on. This is a major part of the Government’s initiative and we need to be part of it.”
When it came to the vote Coun Bush voted with the recommendation which will see the council join the WMCA as a non-constituent member with authority being delegated to the council’s chief executive Kevin Dicks and the council Leader to approve any minor amendments to the proposed new body.
An online poll run by the council on the proposal only drew 90 respondents, 44 against, 40 in favour and six don’t knows.