Observer: “Too late for Solihull residents to have their say as Combined Authority plans race ahead?”

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Press coverage this week records progress made by Solihull in forming a West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA). At their 14th July meeting the council agreed to go forward in principle, subject to consultation with stakeholders.

But though presentations to Parish Councils have taken place, there have been no signs of any effective consultation with the wider non-parish areas covering the majority of the Solihull community, according to the secretary of Solihull Ratepayers’ Association (SRA). He points out:

  • There is no formal process for consultation set out on the Solihull Council website for the benefit of interested parties wishing to make informed enquiries or comments.
  • And the date for closing submissions is today 31st August 2015 (Bank Holiday Monday).

Merits

SRA agrees that the projected overall benefits will be significant – if achieved – in terms of growing the regional economy, improving skills and connectivity/public transport links, leading to increased local control and additional funding through retention of business rates to offset reductions in government funding to councils. If implementation went according to plan, Solihull would be well placed to benefit financially.

However, they point out that – given past experiences of reorganisations on anything like this scale – it is important to get it right.

Concerns

  • SRA is strongly opposed to the appointment of an elected Mayor and favours the alternative proposal of a joint authority/board favoured by Solihull and other districts. It is accepted that this may result in some reduction in devolution powers.
  • The role of the LEPS is supported by SRA, but clarification of their role in the final decision making process is needed. SRA feels decisions should ultimately be taken by the elected board members with political accountability.
  • Previous re-organisations have tended to lead to increased costs and additional tiers of responsibility – mainly staffing costs, higher pay grades leading to a spiralling Council Tax increase.
  • The authority title is important: The West Midlands Combined Authority. Pressure to change that to a Greater Birmingham designation must be resisted.
  • Solihull Ratepayers’ Association also has reservations over the haste in which this change is being implemented; a shadow board has been set up chaired by the leader of Solihull, with Sandwell providing the Vice Chairman.

They sent a copy of their observations to Cllr Bob Sleigh the Shadow Board designated Chairman and to the consultation reference in Solihull: combinedauthority@Solihull.gov.uk

A final decision is to be confirmed at the next full Council Meeting on 13th October.

 

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