Warwickshire County Council report lays out push for "enhanced relationship" with West Midlands Combined Authority
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In July, the cabinet voted to task the council’s professionals with exploring becoming full constituent members.
That would have entailed Warwickshire coming under the remit of the directly-elected West Midlands mayor, with the idea having to be researched, consulted and decided on by October ahead of the mayoral elections in 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.
There were also concerns from councils in Warwickshire that they could be wiped out by the plans, inferring that the county could become a unitary authority area – where all services are dealt with by one larger council.
Just 11 days after the exploration work was given the green light, the county council announced the plan would not go ahead.
“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,” a statement read.
An updated report, discussed at the September 7 cabinet meeting, details that “whilst in large part the WMCA would continue to operate as currently, albeit over a wider geographical footprint, the application of the existing WMCA functions and governance arrangements to a two-tier area such as Warwickshire presents a level of complexity”.
It noted there had not been enough time to full consider key areas, including the number of councillors that would be appointed, how the voting arrangements may change, if or how business rates arrangements would change and how transport levy arrangement would work, highlighting that “rural Warwickshire would unlikely benefit from the West Midlands transport infrastructure to the same extent”.
There were also unanswered questions over responsibility for road maintenance, how housing targets may be affected and what fees and financial commitments would have to be made.
Warwickshire County Council and four of the county’s districts and boroughs are non-constituent members of the WMCA, which means they pay less money but have limited voting rights and access fewer benefits. Warwick District Council is an observer member.
But while the pursuit of full membership has been paused, the latest report suggests it is not off the table completely.
It reads: “The work undertaken to date has reinforced the strength of Warwickshire as a contributor to the West Midlands.
"It has also highlighted the strong strategic alignment both in terms of functional economic geography and strategic aims across the WMCA, the county council and Warwickshire’s district and borough councils.
“This, coupled with the extent of the funding and devolved powers agreed between government and the WMCA in relation to the Deeper Devolution Deal, indicated not only the scope of the potential benefits for Warwickshire but also the potential added value to the WMCA of its constituent membership being extended to include Warwickshire.”
In the meantime, the county continues to seek an “enhanced relationship” with the WMCA as non-constituent members in the hope of securing closer working on transport “with the potential for extension of ticketing arrangements” and support for “mutually beneficial” initiatives such as Transforming Nuneaton and the inclusion of the Coventry & Warwickshire Gigafactory site as a potential Levelling Up Zone.