‘Nothing off the table’ says Warwickshire council after West Midlands Combined Authority plan is shelved​​​​​​​

As we previously reported, the controversial plans have been put on hold
Shire Hall, Warwickshire County Council's HQ.Shire Hall, Warwickshire County Council's HQ.
Shire Hall, Warwickshire County Council's HQ.

Warwickshire County Council says “nothing is off the table” as it considers what to do after shelving plans for full membership of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA).

Just 11 days after the county’s cabinet voted to task the council’s professionals with exploring becoming full constituent members, it was decided there was not enough time to make it work.

The idea, which would have entailed Warwickshire coming under the remit of the directly-elected West Midlands mayor, a post currently filled by the Tory Andy Street, would have had to be researched, consulted and decided on by October this year for residents to be able to vote in the next mayoral elections in May 2024.

Critics and supporters suggested the timeframe was far too tight to fully understand the implications for budgets, what service areas such as transport would pass over to the combined authority or give the public a proper say, something the council agreed with in placing the plans on ice this week.

A statement read: “Significant work has been done to look at a governance review and the terms on which the WMCA might be expanded to include Warwickshire councils.

“Whilst the work undertaken around the governance review to date indicates significant potential benefits from such an opportunity, a key part of this process would include a public consultation across the West Midlands and Warwickshire, along with the compilation of evidence to underpin a decision.

“It has become ever clearer that it is not possible to undertake that consultation within the necessary timescales whilst upholding Warwickshire’s strongly held principles of integrity and credibility.”

It added that the county would “remain committed to the WMCA as an active and fully engaged non-constituent member”.

That added to a briefing from county councillors over the weekend which said the council would “consider the opportunity in the period ahead of the next mayoral elections in 2028”.

The cabinet decision on July 13 included a commitment to investigate alternatives to full membership of the WMCA.

Part of the consideration of full membership was that government funding for projects related to the economy, transport and strategic housing is likely to be distributed through devolution deals – agreements where areas of the country gain more powers locally – following the end of local enterprise partnerships (LEPs).

Warwickshire County Council had been considering options for a devolution deal prior to full membership of the WMCA being discussed.

The report for the recent cabinet decision highlighted the lack of appetite for Warwickshire to pursue a tier three devolution deal – one which involves a directly-elected leader or mayor – and that tier two deals are not currently being prioritised by government.

When asked this week, a spokesperson for the council confirmed that “nothing is off the table”, including remaining as a non-constituent member of WMCA in the long-term, joining as a full member in time for the 2028 election cycle or pursuing tier two or three deals.

“We will continue our work to review the opportunities, benefits and risks of options available to us,” said the spokesperson, who also confirmed cabinet is expected to be updated through a formal report after the summer.

The matter was not raised during Tuesday’s meeting for all county councillors.

Matt Western, MP for Warwick and Leamington, has led a campaign against the West Midlands Combined Authority plan for Warwickshire, and his a petition against what he called 'the Brum deal' received almost 900 signatures in just over two weeks.

He said: “It is a relief that these flawed plans are being halted as it was never in the best interests of Warwickshire residents, only the interests of Cllr Seccombe and Mayor Street.

"I was grateful to local residents for joining me in opposing this attempt to annex Warwickshire into the WMCA and move important decisions away from our local representatives and into the hands of a Mayor almost 30 miles away."