A superb analysis of ‘Osborne’s model of devolution’ caused this regular ‘Brummie scanner’ to look again at its publisher, ‘Birmingham Against the Cuts’. The site revealed a wealth of excellent alternatives, one regret being that, unlike the WMCA article by Richard Hatcher, others had no named author.

BVC/Hatcher voiced support for devolution from the highly centralised UK government to city regions, provided it does not increase regional inequalities. He explains that, in theory, devolution can mean that policy decisions are made closer to those most affected, with more input by them, and that Combined Authorities can provide a scale of local government which matches the scale of local economic areas and other services such as local transport systems which span several local authorities.

But – he continues – Osborne’s model of devolution, and the WMCA which is based on it, meets none of these criteria:

  • It is a one-sided business agenda driven by private profit not local need.
  • It is a threat to public services, jobs and conditions.
  • It is deeply undemocratic.

Hatcher sees the new Combined Authorities as a new form of highly centralised power.

“Devolution is licensed, conditional and revocable: it is the government that decides where, what policies, what structures and what funding, with the Treasury under Osborne holding the whip-hand.  It is symptomatic that the Agreement establishing the Combined Authority is between the WMCA and the Treasury, not the DCLG.

“Up till now the organisations of the labour and community movements in the West Midlands have been largely silent on the question of the WMCA. Knowledge about what it means is not widespread. But the situation will begin to change after it is becomes fully operational in the early summer. Moves by political parties to select their candidates for mayor will also begin then for the election in 2017: Labour will hold a ballot of its members this July.

“(T)he WMCA is a further stage in the Tories’ neoliberal transformation of England. It needs to be understood and its key policies challenged and opposed.

  • Part of the response will focus on the defence of public services and the jobs and conditions of its workers.
  • Part will entail a rigorous questioning of the claims being made for economic growth: where is the evidence, who will it benefit?
  • And a large part should be about the democratisation of a deeply undemocratic power structure”.

The fundamental solution proposed by Hatcher is to make WMCA accountable to an elected West Midlands Assembly, but he adds that, in the meantime, there are a number of other more realistically attainable demands, involving:

  • opening up the existing bodies of the WMCA to participation,
  • taking advantage of existing opportunities for co-option,
  • and creating new ones such as committees and forums.

Read the thoughtfully argued and extensively referenced article here: https://birminghamagainstthecuts.wordpress.com/2016/02/14/what-is-wrong-with-the-west-midlands-combined-authority-and-what-we-can-do-about-it/#comments

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