Further devolution on course for West Midlands following Autumn Statement – WMCA chief

Today’s Autumn Statement charts the route to further devolved powers for the region, the head of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has said.

Cllr Bob Sleigh, the chair of the WMCA said the long-term plans contained in Philip Hammond’s speech were good news for long-term economic growth in the region.

Mr Hammond told the House of Commons discussions with London and the West Midlands on possible devolution of further powers were continuing.

Further devolution on course for West Midlands following Autumn Statement – WMCA chief

WMCA Cllr Bob Sleigh

Cllr Sleigh said: “The building blocks are clearly being put in place for greater powers to be devolved once the West Midlands mayor is in place next year.

“There is still some way to go on further devolved powers and talks remain on-going with the Government but the measures announced today are extremely positive.”

Cllr Sleigh said he was particularly encouraged by Mr Hammond’s plans to allow mayoral combined authorities in England new borrowing powers to reflect their new responsibilities.

“We await to see the full details but anything which allows the locally elected representatives to obtain funding and then to decide best where it should be spend it to be welcomed,” he said.

He also welcomed the new £2.3 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund to build 100,000 new homes across the country, and a further £1.7 billion to speed up the construction of new homes on public sector land were also good news.

Cllr Sleigh said: “That’s really important as it is provides the investment in infrastructure to unlock sites.

“This is particularly good news for places like the Black Country where there is so much former industrial land that can be put to housing use.”

Areas of note include:

  •  The Government will publish a Midlands Engine strategy shortly.
  • The Midlands Engine Investment Fund – The Autumn Statement confirms the arrangements for this fund, and the British Business Bank will make its first investments from the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund in early 2017 to support local SMEs and its first investments from the Midlands Engine Investment Fund shortly after.
  • £1.1 billion of investment in local transport networks
  • £5 million in development funding for the Midlands Rail Hub, a programme of rail upgrades in and around central Birmingham that could provide up to 10 additional trains per hour.
  • £542 million to Local Enterprise Partnerships in the Midlands and east of England

One area where the Midlands did not directly benefit but which Cllr Sleigh said he found encouraging was the granting to the London mayor of powers over spending on adult education.

“This is a field in which we are arguing for greater powers, along with skills and apprenticeships,” he said.

“London has got it because it already has an elected mayor and we want the same because developing skills is incredibly important for our region.

The Chancellor also announced £1 billion would be invested in full-fibre broadband and trialling 5G networks

Cllr Sleigh said: “This investment in the 5G network is also to be welcomed. As a region of innovation and invention the West Midlands needs the best possible framework with which to work if this region is to reach its full potential.”

The full Autumn Statement can be read here.

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