Warwickshire’s Liberal Democrats warn ‘devil will be in the detail’ of any deal to join West Midlands Combined Authority

Controversial plans for the county to become constituent members of the West Midlands Combined Authority are to be assessed by the county council
Shire Hall, Warwickshire County Council's HQShire Hall, Warwickshire County Council's HQ
Shire Hall, Warwickshire County Council's HQ

Warwickshire’s Liberal Democrats have warned that the devil will be in the detail of any deal to join the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) – despite a solid pitch from “smooth operator” Andy Street.

Councillor Jerry Roodhouse (Eastlands), leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Warwickshire County Council, spoke at the cabinet meeting that decided to push forward with work to see whether the county should become full members of the WMCA.

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Like others from all political parties, Cllr Roodhouse noted how tight the timescale was to make a decision on whether to apply by October, the deadline set if Warwickshire residents are to vote in the next mayoral election.

He noted how “politics got in the way” when the matter was considered during the inception of the WMCA and said: “I suspect we may well get into a similar situation with politics again, which has already started across the region – the leader of Coventry City Council not quite saying over his dead body but virtually that this is not going to happen.

“Likewise, you see leaders up in the Black Country, Dudley and so forth, not dissimilar comments from there, Conservative MPs around Warwickshire, and some Conservative leaders as well, saying absolutely not.

“We definitely need the consultation. Having an exploration is great but it must be a genuine consultation and that has to be at all levels, across all of our partners as well, with as much information out there as possible.

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“There are some opportunities there – if you look at those transport options, there are some opportunities – with skills, growth and the economy.

"The timescale is tight but I also recognise that officers have been doing some work prior to this.

“The word the mayor has been consistently using is additionality – ‘we’re doing a wonderful job in the combined authority, we do nothing wrong and it is all about additionality for you as a county’. I am a bit cynical about that, I need to see the good and the bad because there are pros and cons to this and we need to be very clear about that in the consultation.”

Cllr Roodhouse acknowledged that decision makers “can’t escape” the fact there will be benefits to joining but added: “As with most people, I want to see more information and the facts handed out. We need to get the information out there to get the knowledge levels up for everyone.

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“The mayor sold it as the best thing since sliced bread the other night. He did a really good selling job, he is a smooth character, but not everything is perfect and we need to see the not-so-perfect as well as the good side. We need that balance.”

One of the fears around not joining is around the imminent demise of local enterprise partnerships (LEPs), business-led groups that bring together elements of the private and public sector to boost the economy and access pots of funding.

Labour leader Councillor John Holland (Warwick West) expressed frustration at the prospect of government prioritising funding through combined authorities, saying it could prove “a sort of blackmail hanging over us” as this decision gets taken, something Cllr Roodhouse questioned.

He asked: “Can you please tell us what the Labour government will do when it gets into position?

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“My understanding is it is going to do roughly the same, the money will come down through combined authorities. It isn’t going to re-establish LEPs or anything else so we are where we are.

“What we need to realise is that funding will come down, from whatever central government is there, via some form of regionalisation. Therefore, it will put us at a disadvantage if we have to compete for that funding.”