Now the dust is settling after the “no” vote in Birmingham for a directly-elected mayor, we can move on from recriminations and regrets (no more “mayor culpa”, you might say) and decide what to next.
The agenda then and now was about demonstrating strong leadership in Birmingham. Making clear to Government and the world how decisions are made and having clear accountability back to individual level. The election of an individual by popular vote would have given a heavily-inked tick to this box.
The Chamber last week had the opportunity to rehearse what we need to do now with one of Government’s top civil servants who sits right at the heart of decision-making. The discussion was private but it is allowable to share the headlines. They were these:
* Demonstrate that the geography you represent reflects the natural economic landscape.
* Have governance that binds all parties to a shared vision and plan.
* Be very clear about the added-value to be had from the delegated powers or funding you seek.
The creation of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership has impressed Government. The inclusion of Districts from Southern Staffordshire and North Worcestershire reflect the travel-to-work patterns that bind the wider geography together. In addition, there is a growing amount of cooperation with neighbouring LEPs.
On governance, there is a shared commitment to pool management of LEP-generated resources. The most visible example being the deal struck around the enterprise zone.
The zone is in Birmingham city centre, but the proceeds of growth here will be invested in priorities to be decided by the LEP board, with a clear understanding this will help many projects outside of Birmingham. This is the sort of “grown-up” governance the Government wants to see.
Our visitor from London reminded us that the benchmark for governance is the Combined Authority arrangements that sit behind Greater Manchester. I forget how many local authorities are involved – 14, I think – but they have created a legally-binding arrangement that means in effect, Government can have confidence it is dealing with a single entity when it works with Greater Manchester.
For many reasons, replicating this model behind a Greater Birmingham partnership may be too difficult to achieve. But delivering our own version locally that meets the same principle is important and is why the EZ example above sends a strong positive signal.