WARWICKSHIRE County Council is considering joining the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA).
But while the Conservative leader of WCC believes there are many potential benefits to the authority becoming part of the WMCA, others are far from convinced.
Warwick and Leamington Labour MP Matt Western and Stratford’s controlling Liberal Democrat district councillors are both fiercely opposed to the move.
A report presented to WCC’s ruling Cabinet highlighted potential benefits to Warwickshire in everything from transport to housing.
Coun Seccombe said: “We are taking this step by step, and the paper is about exploring the potential expansion of the West Midlands Combined Authority to include Warwickshire, which in practice means the county council and the five district and borough councils.
“We think the potentially significant long-term benefits for Warwickshire residents and business warrants consideration. The first step would be to complete a governance review which would provide the evidence that we all need to be able to consider this further. Each step will be reviewed on its own merit, and we will only move to the next step when, and if, we are satisfied it is the right thing to do.
“If Warwickshire County Council were to join the Combined Authority, the five district and borough councils would automatically be included in their own rights. There is no link between admission to the WMCA and local government reform, which is a separate process.”
Agreement to explore becoming a constituent member means WCC will now prepare a governance review which considers what an expansion of the WMCA to include Warwickshire would mean in terms of benefit to both the county and the broader region.
The review will be presented back to Cabinet and if it is then agreed to go ahead, a detailed scheme would be the subject to a region-wide public consultation.
But the time schedule is tight as any decision to expand membership of WMCA must be made in line with the mayoral election cycle – with the next in May 2024.
Mr Western, who has launched a petition against WCC joining WMCA, is convinced the proposal is nothing more than a bid to bolster support for current Conservative West Midlands Mayor Andy Street at the next election.
He said: “There is no appetite amongst Warwickshire residents to be ruled by a mayor almost 30 miles away and have this decision imposed upon them.
“It will also be hugely expensive for Warwickshire taxpayers – membership is expected to cost Warwickshire County Council £650,000 per year. The five district/borough councils will be expected to contribute on top of this too. This is money that should be spent on Warwickshire, which could end up being spent in Birmingham, Coventry or elsewhere.
“The question of why this is happening now will come to mind for many residents. The reality is that the Andy Street is doing what the Conservatives do best, playing political games to further their own interests. The attempts to bring in Warwickshire and Shropshire to the WMCA is an attempt to shore up Conservative support for Andy Street in the May 2024 mayoral election.”
And Stratford Lib-Dem district councillors are also suspect the move was being hurried through for political reasons to help Mr Street.
They are also not convinced there will be any benefit for south Warwickshire from joining the WMCA as a full member, and are concerned the county’s districts and boroughs will have no choice in the matter.
SDC leader Susan Juned said: “Liberal Democrats believe that residents benefit from local government that is close to them, is able to listen to them and which represents them. Stratford district would be competing for government money with the likes of Birmingham and Wolverhampton for transport, adult skills training and inward investment.”
“We also need stability. There have been massive political changes in Stratford with the Conservatives losing control after more than 20 years in power. Now is the time to consolidate and make sure that the residents of Stratford district have their voices heard and get the support that is rightfully theirs.”
Mr Street has denied the move is political, adding any decision on joining the WMCA was up to Warwickshire’s councillors.