Q1: In the summary published by the Shadow WMCA, they acknowledge that “28 comments were around wanting an actual vote on the establishment of a Combined Authority, the devolution proposal and the mayor–some of these comments suggested that the consultation process has been undemocratic.” Is DCLG content with the manner in which the Constituent Councils carried out this consultation process, in particular with the short period of time allowed (3 weeks), and with the fact that it was solely conducted on-line?
A1: The three-week public consultation built on extensive prior local engagement on the proposals to form a combined authority, which was carried out by the seven constituent councils of the proposed West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) between July and September 2015. A summary of this engagement exercise was published alongside the scheme on 26 October. It involved writing to 465 stakeholders, attendance of the three Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEP) in the area at shadow combined authority meetings, establishment of a “query” box on the WMCA website to which local areas responded to the queries directly and a number of formal and informal briefings with the public, business and third sector communities. The combined authority’s proposals were shaped as a direct result of this period of local engagement, leading to the addition of the non-constituent members.
As statute provides, the Secretary of State or the constituent councils must carry out a public consultation on the proposals in the scheme; in this case the WMCA carried out the consultation and submitted a summary of the responses to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State must then consider that no further consultation is necessary or carry out a consultation himself. In this case he decided that no further consultation was necessary. In making this decision the Secretary of State considered all the relevant factors including the earlier local engagement, how this had shaped the scheme proposals, and the efforts made in the three-week consultation to alert the public to that consultation and allow comments on the proposals. On this basis he was satisfied that the consultation was sufficient. He recognised that this consultation was conducted on-line, and was aware of the range of media measures used to signpost people to the consultation, including news releases on council websites, regular Tweets and use of other social media platforms, as well as newsletters and digital media of other partners such as the LEPs, local universities and Centro (the Integrated Transport Authority). He also noted that there was coverage in local print media and broadcasts.
Q2: Given that, even after six months of “the programme of engagement and consultation since July 2015”, 91 respondents voiced unhappiness with Coventry’s participation in West Midlands Combined Authority, is DCLG content that there is adequate local support for Coventry’s participation, and that the CA as now envisaged will prove sufficiently united and robust? Why did the Explanatory Memorandum not mention the concerns expressed by Coventry residents?
A2: As required by statute the Secretary of State has made the decision that he considers that the establishment of the WMCA is likely to improve the exercise of statutory functions in the area, while having regard to the need to reflect the identities and interests of local communities and to secure effective and convenient local government. He has also taken the view that where local councils–the democratically elected representatives of the area - come forward with proposals for a combined authority, where these proposals meet the statutory tests and where the councils themselves have consented to the necessary Order establishing the combined authority he will seek Parliamentary approval to that secondary legislation. These are the circumstance of the Order which he has now laid before Parliament.
The question refers to 91 respondents which the councils’ summary of consultation responses records as part of the 214 responses received on the theme of identity. The Explanatory Memorandum not only highlighted the broad headlines of the consultation responses, but also included a link to the summary of responses and the councils’ own local engagement analysis so that this further detail would be available to all who wished to study it. The broad headlines that were highlighted included issues of concern which were that the WMCA should not be a “supercouncil” and the democratic sovereignty of individual councils must be retained.
As to the matters raised by the 91 respondents the Secretary of State had considered these as part of his consideration of the summary of consultation responses. He considered these along with all the other matters raised in the summary of consultation responses and in the councils’ analysis of their local engagement. He considered in particular the views of the councils’ themselves, being the democratically elected representatives of the area, and to which in the traditions of our representative democracy considerable weight should be attached. It is on this basis that the Secretary of State is confident that the combined authority as now envisaged will prove sufficiently united and robust.
Q3: As regards the consultation carried out by the WMCA constituent councils in January of this year, was there explicit reference to the proposal for an elected mayor to head up the WMCA in the consultation document which was the basis for the January consultation?
A3: The only explicit reference to a proposal for an elected mayor to head up the WMCA was the statement that “setting up a basic Combined Authority has no bearing on whether in future there is to be a Mayoral Combined Authority”–a wholly accurate statement. The consultation explained that it was a consultation about the proposals for a combined authority set out in a scheme document which was published on 26 October–a proposal in short for a basic combined authority. The consultation also referred to the fact that “as stakeholders may be aware” a “proposed devolution deal was signed by the Leaders of the seven constituent councils and the three Local Enterprise Partnership Chairs in November” and stated that the proposed devolution deal “is dependent on approval by each constituent authority.”
Q4: On p. 20 of the summary, the councils say:
“Proposals on which views are sought in the consultation were regarding the Scheme and the establishment of the Combined Authority, however within them many of the responses were wider than the Scheme and the establishment of the Combined Authority. These proposals are separate from what is in the proposed devolution deal and though a Combined Authority is a pre-requisite for delivering devolution, setting up a Combined Authority has no bearing on whether in future there is to be a Mayoral Combined Authority. Though recognised as important views, such responses will be considered as part of on-going and future engagement on devolution.”
Do the underlined words mean that the Government are content that the WMCA should be established and no elected mayor later installed?
A4: No. The Government is fully committed to the devolution deal signed with the West Midlands in November 2015, which envisages, subject to the appropriate statutory processes being undertaken and the necessary legislation put in place, a mayoral combined authority–that is a combined authority with a directly elected Mayor for the West Midlands acting as Chair to the Combined Authority and exercising certain powers. The underlined words mean that establishing the combined authority as proposed does not of itself have any bearing on whether, and if so how, the councils concerned and the Secretary of State may in future exercise their statutory powers to establish a mayor for that combined authority.
41 See: .