REDDITCH will be treated as an equal partner in the new West Midlands Combined Authority after the borough voted last Thursday (October 8) to join the ‘Midlands Powerhouse’.
And one of the first tasks it will have on the agenda will be to sit down with other members to decide priorities for an £8 million investment programme to grow the regional economy, improve skills and create a better transport system.
The new body, which is backed by Bromsgrove MP and Business Secretary Sajid Javid, will formerly come into being in early 2016 with an elected ‘Metro Mayor’ at its head, who will only have power over the metropolitan authorities.
“I am genuinely pleased Redditch is joining us, they will be an excellent partner in the combined authority and I’m looking forward to working with them,” said Councillor Bob Sleigh, chairman of the WMCA and leader of Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council.
“We have created a governance scheme which fully embeds the districts like Redditch in the process and what is important is that Redditch will be round the table deciding our priorities for the next 30 years.”
Asked if Redditch would be left to survive on crumbs from that table, Coun Sleigh said: “The combined authority must show that it can deliver right across the members and at this stage I cannot see anything else on the horizon for the region; we are the engine at the heart of the country and the combined authority means we will be able to speak as a single voice to government and bring in more investment.”
His comments came after Redditch councillors voted 16-10 in favour of joining the new body, which will not become active until early 2016.
Council leader Coun Bill Hartnett, (Lab, Church Hill) had opened the debate by saying: “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.”
However Coun David Thain (Con, Crabbs Cross) said: “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.”
Speaking after the meeting Coun Paul Swansborough (Ukip, Winyates) said: “The decision to join the West Midlands Combined Authority by Redditch Borough Council has been rushed and is flawed from the very outset.”