New body to raise funds for continued infrastructure expansion.
West Midlands Combined Authority has unveiled its draft budget for 2018/19.
The proposed figure of £178.4 million for the coming financial year will be discussed by the WMCA board at a meeting at Tally Ho! police centre in Birmingham on Friday January 12th. The figure would see a contribution by the constituent member authorities – Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton councils – totalling £118 million.The draft budget also proposes the introduction of a council tax precept to pay for the Mayor of the West Midlands – a figure of £7.5 million, equivalent to £12 a year on a Band D property or 23p a week.
The region’s councils agreed to form a combined authority with an elected mayor in return for the transfer of powers and funding from Whitehall to the West Midlands as part of the government’s devolution policy. The proposed budget would ensure the £36.5 million being given to the region by government this coming year is spent on infrastructure projects such as Midland Metro, Sprint and developing skills – as envisaged in the first devolution deal.
Cllr Izzi Seccombe, WMCA lead member for finance and investment, said: “Since the launch of devolution by the government the constituent and non-constituent members of the WMCA have worked hard to establish an organisation that is delivering real benefits for the West Midlands. This has resulted in substantial inward investment into the region of public sector money that would otherwise have been swallowed up by Whitehall. The WMCA has achieved a lot in a very short space of time. It requires funding to keep that work going and this figure represents superb value for money.”
Since the WMCA was established in 2016 it has:
· Secured two devolution deals that will see the wider region get £1.4 billion of government funding over the next 30 years – money that would normally have gone straight to Whitehall. It will be used to drive an £8 billion, 30 year investment programme.
· Started to deliver a long term transport plan that will see £3.4 billion of tram extensions, new suburban rail lines, cycle routes and motorway improvements built over the coming decade
· Launched a £200 million brownfield remediation fund to clean up 1,600 hectares of contaminated industrial land and bring it back into use for new homes and commercial development
· Launched the Greater Icknield and Smethwick Housing Growth Prospectus in collaboration with Birmingham and Sandwell Councils, a blueprint to accelerate a £400 million development of 5,160 new homes in Birmingham and Smethwick.
· Invested nearly £100 million in the Coventry City Centre South which will transform some of the most out-dated areas of the city
As well as the constituent authorities there are 17 non-constituent members of the WMCA. These comprise local authorities in neighbouring counties, local enterprise partnerships, West Midlands Fire and Rescue Authority and West Midlands Police. Their contribution remains unchanged for 2018/19 from the first year of the WMCA – £25,000 each.
The establishment of an elected mayor for the region was a condition of the devolution deal. Conservative Party candidate Andy Street, the former chief executive of John Lewis, was elected in May 2017, one of six new metropolitan mayors around the country.
His primary role is to chair the WMCA and oversee economic growth, transport, housing, skills and jobs across the region. However since his election he has also taken a leading role in tackling issues such as homelessness and rough sleeping, youth unemployment, community cohesion and air quality. This has seen the Mayor set up:
· A homelessness taskforce – aimed at designing out homelessness through co-ordinated working between the public, private and voluntary sectors on schemes such as Change Into Action
· A leadership commission – a taskforce of inspirational role models to help people from under-represented parts of society make it to the top of the career ladder
· Mayor’s Mentors – a scheme providing mentoring for young people
· Funding for Growth – a programme to identify new ways of funding projects and the ambitions of the WMCA
· An action plan to tackle road congestion and increase the resilience of the transport network while encouraging people to use public transport, cycle and walk
Mr Street’s first year of office is being paid for by the WMCA’s 2017/18 devolution money. An alternative system must be established for the coming financial year and finance experts from the private sector, local government and academia have concluded the best way to do so is through a precept.
Under the precept, £2 would go on operational running costs of the mayoral office while £10 would be used to implement congestion-busting measures focused on cycling, park and ride services and Sprint rapid-transit using road-running tram-style vehicles.
Mr Street said: “In the seven months the role of Mayor has existed, the value of the office has already become quite clear, particularly in ensuring our region punches above its weight with Government. The region is making exceptional progress and we must ensure this continues and help with our work to tackle homelessness and other important areas of work. The precept will be vital in ensuring we can continue our region’s economic recovery.
“But I am conscious also that we need quick action to tackle congestion and this is what the majority of the precept will be used for, particularly encouraging cycling and giving commuters a viable alternative to driving.”
After being discussed at next week’s meeting the proposed budget will then go before the WMCA budget scrutiny task group, which will report back to the board on February 9th.
The full proposed budget documents can be read here.