Shropshire Star

Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin could join West Midlands Combined Authority in 'super-region'

Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin Councils could join the West Midlands Combined Authority in a 'super-region' as it looks to complete drastic new expansion plans.

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Council leaders Shaun Davies and Lezley Picton.

Both councils have been sounded out by the combined authority, which is led by the West Midlands' Conservative Mayor, Andy Street, over potentially joining the organisation.

Full membership of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) could bring with it access to major development funding for both councils – but would also see the county coming under the umbrella of the West Midlands Mayor.

The WMCA is currently made up of seven local authorities – Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall, Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Coventry and Solihull, which all have full voting rights on its decisions.

It is understood that as well as Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin, Warwickshire has also been sounded out over future membership.

Both Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin are currently 'non-constituent' members of the WMCA, with reduced voting rights.

The latest developments come against what looks to be the end of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEP) – with Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin currently benefitting from the financial support of the Marches LEP for development and infrastructure projects.

Shropshire Council's Conservative leader, Councillor Lezley Picton, said that informal discussions had taken place with Mr Street over the WMCA's future plans.

She said her council is looking at how they can secure the "best" for residents, but hinted it may make more sense to look to counties such as Hereford and Worcester for a union, rather than the Midlands.

She said: “Shropshire Council has been a non-constituent member of the West Midlands Combined Authority for seven years and, given the Government’s recent announcements around the future of Local Enterprise Partnerships and the expectation of further devolution deals for local government, we must rightly look at whether this arrangement continues to give us good value.

“We are now considering how Shropshire can get the best for its residents and businesses and a number of potential options that could succeed the Marches LEP or open up devolution deals are being explored. This includes looking at a variety of options with our neighbours, as well as the WMCA.

"It’s no secret that Shropshire naturally has more in common with those areas that share more similar characteristics, opportunities and challenges, but at this stage we cannot rule anything out.

"As we look at the different approaches Shropshire could take, I met informally with WMCA Mayor Andy Street to hear about the WMCA’s future plans for both constituent and non-constituent members . This is simply another step to help inform any decision we may take in future and to ensure that whatever the set-up is, it is the best for Shropshire."

Telford & Wrekin Council's Labour leader, Councillor Shaun Davies said they had spoken to the WMCA about future partnerships.

Councillor Davies also categorically ruled out the prospect of Telford & Wrekin Council supporting any separate combined authority made up of Shropshire, Hereford, and Telford & Wrekin.

He said such a plan would not be in residents', or businesses', best interests.

He said: "The Government has made clear that in the immediate future more devolution powers and resources will come through regional bodies such as combined authorities or mayoral combined council areas.

"Despite the wishes of some we are absolutely committed to ensuring there is not a mayoral authority for Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin, as that would not be in the best interests of Telford and Wrekin residents or businesses.

"So we have sought to understand from the combined authority, their appetite for future partnership working.

"However, any such decision about next steps would be subject to Telford and Wrekin residents giving their views. There is therefore no immediate plan for us to join the combined authority, but we have been clear with the Government that under no circumstances would we support a combined authority for Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin and Herefordshire."

The WMCA was formed in 2016. Its decision-making and spending powers – which were extended this year under a new devolution deal – take in matters including transport, infrastructure and housing.

Under current legislation any move to take in new members would require the unanimous backing of the WMCA. However, this is set to change under the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, which is currently making its way through Parliament.

The WMCA is keen to point out that no formal talks have taken place, and insist that no expansion plans are being pursued from their end.

A spokesperson told the Star: “Authorities across the wider West Midlands will regularly review their alliances and links to ensure they continue to be best placed to serve their residents.

“However, the WMCA has received no formal application for new membership and no process is underway. Furthermore, the WMCA is not actively pursuing any expansion or new membership.”