Government plans to give the West Midlands far greater political powers and financial freedom to help drive new jobs, homes, better transport and skills for local people have been welcomed.
The Levelling Up White Paper sets out to establish the West Midlands as a national trailblazer for the transfer of ‘London-style’ powers to the regions and into the hands of the people who know their areas best.
The new proposals will see:
- The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) given control over its allocation of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund to improve education and training opportunities
- The West Midlands become the UK’s first Smart City Region with funding to drive new digital start-ups in health tech, future mobility and smart energy
- Coventry, Dudley, Walsall and Sandwell to become Education Investment Areas with focussed support to improve schools
- An extension of the region’s successful digital and retrofit skills bootcamps alongside new ones in green skills, professional services, manufacturing and healthcare
- An extra £28m for the WMCA to regenerate more brownfield land for new homes and jobs
- Wolverhampton to be the first of 20 towns and cities where derelict urban sites will be targeted for redevelopment using a £1.5bn fund
- Local leaders having a greater say over how their local railways are run
The Levelling Up White Paper, which was presented to Parliament this afternoon by Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, will make the WMCA, along with Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), a blueprint for the creation of more regional mayors across England with the expectation that they will be able to target spending more effectively.
It also opens the door for detailed negotiations between the WMCA and government on a new, deeper Devolution Deal for the region and what additional powers need to be transferred from Whitehall to the West Midlands.
Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands and chair of the WMCA, said: “Today’s Levelling Up White Paper will help finally address the imbalance of opportunities across the UK.
“Whether it’s building more affordable homes, ensuring better access to qualifications to secure the high-quality well-paid jobs of the future, or the region receiving a greater share of critical research and development funding, the White Paper has set out a clear plan as to how it will build on the progress we have already made in the West Midlands to improve people’s chances in life.
“Prior to the pandemic we already had the fastest growing economy outside of London, with record homes being built, record numbers in work, and record investment in public transport. But with Covid knocking us for six we needed the white paper to help get us back on track, and that is exactly what it will do.
“From the West Midlands being named as one of the UK’s first innovation accelerators, to yet more cash coming our way through the devolved Shared Prosperity Fund to spend on improving education and training opportunities, the region has secured some great wins that will allow us to make a real difference to people’s lives.
“But the real prize is the commitment from Government to negotiate a third, trailblazing, devolution deal with the West Midlands. This is something we lobbied extremely hard for as it now opens the door for us to be able to push for more powers and funding, ensuring devolution goes hand-in-hand with levelling up.”
Cllr Ian Brookfield, WMCA portfolio holder for economy and innovation and leader of the City of Wolverhampton Council, added: “We welcome this announcement and we know about the good intentions in the White Paper – but, as always, the devil is in the detail. What does this actually mean for places like Wolverhampton and the wider West Midlands region.
“We’ve got regeneration schemes that have been in train for years and fundamentally, we hope this provides us with the opportunity to establish an effective partnership between national and local government – for us both to focus our respective resources on delivering a shared strategy to level up.
“I’m glad to see mention of more devolved powers because people want to see action now and I suspect if you give the local leaders and the Mayors, those devolution powers we can get things done differently because we know our areas better.”
Negotiations around a new Devolution Deal for the West Midlands are expected to include a number of new powers that the region wants to see transferred from central government.
Amongst those could be funding and powers related to trade and investment, backing the region as an export powerhouse so the West Midlands can continue its success as the leading destination for foreign direct investment outside of the South East.
(Source: West Midlands Combined Authority)