The campaign group are calling out devolution deals which are being done behind closed doors, amid fears that the devolution process across the UK has so far been made up of back-room deals by politicians and officials – rather than citizens.
This comes on the day business leaders from across the West Midlands region have welcomed the proposed devolution agreement between Treasury and the emerging West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA).
In the biggest devolution deal to date the agreement will see the government make an annual contribution of £40 million for 30 years to support an overall investment package worth £8 billion, alongside the creation of up to half a million jobs.
Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and businesses are key to growing the region’s economy and the further development of the WMCA’s plans. Stewart Towe, Chair of the Black Country LEP said: “This proposed devolution deal is a real opportunity for the West Midlands, in agreement with government, to take control of our own economic growth and to continue to work with our partners across the West Midlands including local authorities and fellow LEPs in Greater Birmingham and Solihull and Coventry and Warwickshire.
“The level of partnership between public and private sector, which is unique to the West Midlands proposed devolution deal, is focused on investing in the region, creating new jobs, improving skills, delivering more homes and dramatically improving transport. This proposed devolution deal will make a real difference to people young and old and to businesses across the West Midlands.”
Mike Wright, Executive Director at Jaguar Land Rover, said: “Jaguar Land Rover welcomes the agreement as an opportunity to increase collaboration between government and business in the West Midlands in order to create more jobs and growth in the region. We know that scale matters and with a population of over four million people we are incredibly well placed to compete internationally for investment as we look to accelerate a manufacturing renaissance for the region.”
Campaigners believe councils and the government should give the public a ‘meaningful’ say on the devolution deal, after the proposals included plans to impose an elected mayor on The West Midlands.
Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “While it’s fantastic that the West Midlands will be getting more powers, it’s absolutely essential that local people are involved in the process. Citizens in the region shouldn’t be left out in the cold while devolution takes place.
“It would be a huge mistake for these important decisions about local democracy to be made behind closed doors. It’s vital the public in the Midlands get a say – otherwise, these devolution plans risk floundering and becoming an unpopular mess.
“For a start, it’s simply misguided to impose a West Midlands mayor without asking local people if they want one. Why not ask the public what they think? A democratic process could look at whether they back having an elected mayor, what area devolution should cover, what powers it should have and what the Combined Authority’s priorities should be.
“There must be real public involvement now with a real chance of influencing the outcome. This has to be started quickly – otherwise the risk is that citizens in the region will feel it’s a done deal.
“Let’s have a real debate about devolution and decentralisation. The ERS and Universities from across the country recently ran two ‘Citizens’ Assemblies’ on local devolution deals in Sheffield and Southampton. Local people were brought together to discuss and vote on the plans in their areas – with great success. It’s time for something similar in the West Midlands – council bosses and officials need to let the public in.”