I print below exactly my words which were reported recently in the Coventry Telegraph following a debate in the Council Chamber at Coventry City Council recently where I first articulated this idea. This goes into some of the logic and is a genuine attempt to show a way forward by taking some political heat out of the idea of mayors which are unpopular and in my view unnecessary.
“Regional Ministers are not a new idea. Labour introduced them in 2007 with Liam Byrne MP being the first Minister for the West Midlands. He then famously moved on to be replaced by Ian Austin MP with Linda Waltho MP as his deputy. All three were MPs in the West Midlands.
“After the general election the coalition government did away with them. They talked about localism by wanting to transfer powers to local areas which in the end only resulted in referendums for elected Mayors which as you know were almost unanimously rejected across the country where polls were run. This ran alongside the ‘Big Society’ mantra which was going to be the saviour of all local services. That worked well didn’t it?
“I notice the government now have a Minister for Portsmouth believe it or not in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in the guise of Mark Francois MP. Seems to me that if there is a Minister for Portsmouth, why not for the West Midlands?
“My general point about the regional economy not recovering from the 1980s has merit when you look at unemployment statistics with our levels remaining stubbornly higher than the rest of the country. This shows that things need to be done differently and that our economy has unique features which need to be both understood and recognised so we can tailor policies to really tackle these structural faults.
“We are not the south east where virtually all the power of government and finance resides. The example I gave of when Peugeot closed could equally apply when Rover at Longbridge closed. DWP Job centres and taskforces were set up to help, support, train, educate and target both workers and employers to fulfil both the needs of the individual and the economy. It was to some extent a bespoke service due to the crisis at the time. That’s the sort of approach we need as a region all the time not just when a big employer goes to the wall.
“My idea of a Minster for the West Midlands is Labour Party policy. We proposed it in our manifesto. To quote: ‘Regional Ministers would facilitate relationships between Local Enterprise Partnerships, Local Authorities and central government; advise Ministers on the impact of local and regional policy; bring existing structures and the private sector together to encourage investment; and would be a visible representative of their area in Whitehall. Labour would set up a Regional Committee sitting in the Cabinet Office, made up of all Regional Ministers and Chaired by the Minister for the Cabinet Office to monitor local and regional policy outcomes.’
“Seems to me a Minister for the West Midlands could have clout, accountability and local connections. They could work across councils and government without the need to be seen as doing something special which is the case now. This would be real government at the heart of our city and region. Just like they have in the south east.”