COVENTRY City Council is split on whether to combine with West Midlands authorities following government proposals to transfer powers to English regions.
Labour council leader Ann Lucas denied the move to create a “West Midlands powerhouse” would lead to Coventry becoming part of a “greater Birmingham”.
But Tories told a full council meeting they would prefer Coventry and Warwickshire councils to continue working together in bidding for new powers and government funding pots, without joining Birmingham and black country councils.
The plan would not mean councils merge. Instead, they would work more closely together as a “combined authority” on plans to boost jobs and economic development, while hoping to win more powers from central government for the region to run its own affairs.
Over the last three years, Westminster parties have pointed to the Greater Manchester combined authority model as the way forward if regions want new powers and funding to be devolved from Whitehall.
Despite the rhetoric of transferring powers, the Localism Act of 2011 ceded more than 100 powers to Westminster, and the government has disproportionately cut the regions’ councils’ budgets under deficit reduction measures.
The debate which raged when Coventry rejected plans for an elected mayor in 2012 – when ministers argued new powers were dependent on cities choosing the elected mayor model to run their council – has re-ignited following the Scottish referendum.
All three main Westminster parties pledged to devolve new powers to Scotland. Prime Minister David Cameron has said as part of the deal the English regions required greater powers and self-determination, meaning more power to make their own decisions about how money is spent.
Cllr Lucas said it was crucial that Coventry had mature “conversations” with West Midlands councils.
She said it was important to lay to rest the “lie that Coventry is going to be part of Birmingham”.
She added; “Regardless of who wins the next election, we as local authorities will have to work more closely with our neighbours.”
She said the council’s ruling Labour group had decided that “in the interests of Coventry we will talk to all relevant authorities. We will talk to Rugby, Warwick, North Warwickshire, Nuneaton and Bedworth, Stratford, Warwickshire County Council, Solihull, and we will talk to our younger cousin down the road Birmingham, Walsall, Dudley and Sandwell, Wolverhampton, and Hinckley and Bosworth.
“We will get the best deal for Coventry.”
She said bidding for new powers from government as Coventry and Warwickshire would fail because the sub-region did not have enough clout given its smaller population.
She accused the council’s Tory opposition of “peddling mischief”.
But Conservative group leader John Blundell, in issuing the warning of Coventry becoming part of a “greater Birmingham”, said: “We are more than willing to work together for the interests of Coventry’s economy. We would want compelling reasons why we would change our position.
“The Conservative group believes it’s better for Coventry to be part of a strong Coventry and Warwickshire group.”