Combined Authorities Consultation

Proposed West Midlands Combined Authority This consultation is designed to give residents, businesses and other organisations the opportunity to comment on whether Stratford on Avon District Council should join the proposed West Midlands Combined Authority, sometimes referred to as the "Midlands Powerhouse" or, Midlands Engine".

This explanation is accompanied by a series of questions and answers that are intended to help you formulate views. At the end of this you can state your views by clicking the link to the survey. The following questions and answers are several that have been raised by councillors and staff in the past few weeks.

1. What is a Combined Authority?

A combined authority is a grouping of local authorities and other relevant organisations that are created through a legal process. They are a way of devolving power, funding and decisions traditionally made in Whitehall to other parts of the country. Councils can work together as a group, or combination, to make decisions based on that area's priorities (not national ones) although it is certain combined authorities will contribute to national priorities. A combined authority structure is designed to help councils work together each Council will maintain its sovereignty. The purpose of combined authorities is to ensure better collaboration between councils on issues that are more effective when delivered together or, ones that cannot be decided upon alone, such as transport investment or strategies for skills and economic prosperity.

2. What has Stratford on Avon District Council decided about the Combined Authority?

The Council is engaging with the work to develop the combined authority but has made no formal decision as to whether it should be part of this arrangement. The West Midlands Combined Authority proposal is designed on the three geographies of the Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership, the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership and the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) areas. At this stage, the matter under consideration is at the beginning of the formal legal process that is set out by Government as part of its devolution agenda. Stratford on Avon District Council is intending, at its Special meeting on the 1 September 2015, to give an indication in principle as to whether it wishes to be part of the proposed West Midlands Combined Authority. In making that decision the Council wants to know the views of its residents, businesses and other partners. If the Council joined the West Midlands Combined Authority it would not be merging with other councils and would still be an entity in its own right. The proposal does not mean transferring powers from Stratford to Birmingham, Coventry or any other metropolitan area but that arrangements can be made for powers to be devolved from central government to the new combined authority. Stratford on Avon District Council would not lose any of its current powers but would be able to influence other issues that it currently does not have the opportunity so to do.

3. Why is the consultation being carried out now?

The initial ideas for the combined authority came out in November 2014. The period up to the General Election in May 2015 were designed to clarify what the combined authority would entail. In June 2015 the West Midlands authorities were involved in a meeting with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government when it was identified that a proposed Combined Authority should include the three LEP areas described above. Subsequent to that, in early July, a launch statement entitled "West Midlands Combined Authority " Growing the UK Economy through a Midlands Engine" was published. This was mentioned by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his budget statement on 8 July 2015. This was followed up with details of the Spending Review process where it was identified that any proposals for a combined authority must be with the Government by 4 September 2015. The proposal must identify the geography of the combined authority that will undertake devolved powers.

In responding to this, Stratford on Avon District Council wants to ensure that a decision is made by full Council prior to that date. This consultation will therefore influence that decision.

4. What is on offer from the Government?

It is up to the individual proposers of a combined authority to identify what powers they would seek to be devolved from Central Government. These are being worked on at present but the Launch Statement identified that any work would be based on partnership and collaboration. The principles identified were:-

- A commitment to collaborative working on the creation of a combined authority at the heart of a Midland's engine covering the geography of the three LEPs.

- A prize of strong economic growth for the West Midlands as part of a Midlands Engine and a rebalancing of the UK economy.

- Smart investment which ensures focus on where the biggest outcome for the combined authority can be achieved.

- Pursuing growth accompanied by an agenda of innovation and public service reform that will reduce the overall level of public spending.

- Collaborative working with the private sector as the primary driver of economic growth and working with them to establish the economic priorities of the combined authority.

- All communities benefiting from growth but not necessarily at the same time nor in the same way.

5. When would a Combined Authority be set up?

The current timeline indicates a new combined authority working fully from April 2016. The process will require a number of approvals and is dependent upon, amongst other things, Parliamentary time to debate the issues and embrace new legislation. A Bill now before Parliament is expected to become law in January 2016

6. How will monies be distributed to cities and districts within a Combined Authority?

In terms of finance, for the combined authority, there will not be a set amount per head of population for each council. The Government will pass on funding for the combined authority that was previously allocated and decided on either by Westminster itself or a Government agency. It is proposed that decisions about transport investment, for instance, would be made by the West Midlands Leaders of Councils each with an equal vote in a combined authority, instead of the current system where Government Ministers and Civil Servants make decisions about funding these kinds of major infrastructure projects. In the combined authority the decisions would be based on a formal assessment of the benefits of any scheme or programme to the local economy and local residents, for example in terms of productivity, jobs and skills. The key is that powers, responsibilities and funds move from Whitehall to the West Midlands. By doing this it is proposed that decisions which take account of an area's needs and ambitions can be made more effectively than by National Government.

The Council looks forward to receiving your views by completing this questionnaire.