20170623 Things to note at the WMCA AGM

#flourisheshandkerchief #blowsnose Goodness, excuse me. I’m all emotional. They grow up so fast, don’t they? Our Combined Authority is a year(-ish) old, and it is having a birthday party at Summer Lane (West Midlands Combined Authority HQ). You’re all invited, but call ahead: it may be problematic if you all turn up. Actually, it would be wonderful. We should totally surprise them with unmanageable attendance one day.

…but fear not. I will be there. I wonder if they do Birmingham/West Midlands High Tea? Samosas and birthday cake, if you are from outside the area:

Cake not shown. I think it was a giant French Fancy.

Minutes — 12 May 2017

At the last meeting, the Board made the following resolutions re: business rate retention and the business rate retention pilot that the seven metropolitan authorities of the WMCA are participating in:

A month is a lifetime in politics

It was noted at the time that the Local Government Finance Bill would not be able to complete its legislative journey before the General Election, and that “[i]t would be for the next Government to determine its legislative priorities, and this might produce a delay in the previously expected timetables for taking the proposals forward.”

Skip forward to now, and lo. The Local Government Finance Bill failed to make it into the Queen’s Speech. In their coverage, LGC quoted the Principal Research Officer at SIGOMA, who said: “[t]here are no current plans for resurrecting or re-introducing the provisions of the [Local Government Finance Bill] which means that the introduction of 100% retention is effectively suspended with no current plans for its introduction”.

This will not affect the WMCA pilot, which has been set up without the need for legislation. It has, however, left a yawning hole in the future of how places are funded. I fear that it will not be a priority for a Government wholly absorbed by making a total mess of Brexit. We’ll see if the Board reflect on that.

Delivering Our Priorities: The Mayor and WMCA Structures

The first thing to note is that Mayor Andy Street has made some appointments — notably his Chief of Staff (yes, this is officially a thing now), Andrew Browning. Andrew had the thankless task of standing as a Conservative PPC in Birmingham Ladywood, and my only (secondhand) knowledge of him thus far is that he is bright. I suppose that will do as a starting point.

Here, the Board is being asked to:

Endorse the proposed development of WMCA structures in order to deliver the priorities of the Mayoral West Midlands Combined Authority.

So, to these structures. Firstly, the Cabinet and their portfolios have been subject to some small changes. Indeed, one of the Cabinet has changed, following a change in control at Dudley MBC — so Councillor Pete Lowe is out, Councillor Pat Harley is in. This also means — alongside a Conservative Mayor — there are three Conservative Cabinet Members, five Labour:

While I think we can all agree that ‘Wellbeing and HS2’ is a somewhat unusual portfolio, I am pleased to see the additions, although I hope that the links between Environment and Economic Growth are made. The only future economy we have being (at least) net-zero carbon, etc. The report notes that Mayor Andy Street will be meeting with the Cabinet to discuss the roles and the “operating model” of the Cabinet.

This, I think, will be really interesting — as much as anything, to see how much the Mayor works with his (mostly Labour) Cabinet, and how much he gets done outside — via ‘taskforces’, ‘commissions’, etc. I would expect to see a lot of the latter, as the Mayor will need to draw in partners to get things done — and the papers confirm his intention to work in this way (p19). It is a positive thing. What we want to ensure, I think, is that that work does not occur outside of democratic oversight.

The paper reaffirms Mayor Andy Street’s commitment to the constitutional involvement of the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), and to the “three-LEP geography” in particular. This interests me, because the Marches LEP is on the cusp of becoming a non-Constituent member. I remember Mayor Andy Street (when he was just Andy Street, Chair of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP) expressing reservations about that, as it could dilute the 90% economic self-containment of that three-LEP geography. Anyway, you get the point. LEPs are here to stay.

However, this is not where business involvement ends, and a new Business Advisory Group is being set up, which will draw membership from Chambers of Commerce, Confederation of British Industry, the Institute of Directors, the
Federation of Small Businesses and “other similar organisations”. This is (potentially) an excellent opportunity for a more diverse array of businesses to advise the Mayor and the LEP Chairs.

Also worth noting is the number of important Executive appointments that are in progress:

It will be interesting to see what is built around this team — certainly, people who work with me wearing my professional (ahem) hat (building a zero carbon economy and society, tacking and mitigating climate change, etc.) are really keen to see a Head of Sustainability.

Also included is Mayor Andy Street’s Renewal Plan from his election campaign — I will not be summarising this (it starts on p23 if you fancy a browse), but as agreed last summary, I will draw out elements as we examine what everyone is up to.

Performance Reporting

A quick refresh here of the outcomes that the WMCA hopes to achieve via its work (which, as the money shows us, is overwhelmingly committed to big capital projects):

This amounts to a universal regional offer, of sorts: it is intended that we all benefit, that we are all healthier, happier, and better off because of the work of the WMCA and its partners. It is a big deal, and how we measure that is important — indeed, what is measured and what is spent are the strongest indicators of priorities. Far more so than what politicians say.

Anyway, before now, this is how ‘what must be measured’ was conceived:

This is the basis on which programmes and investments are currently assessed. However, this does not cut it in terms of achieving ‘universal’ benefit, or ‘inclusive growth’ — GVA per head, although a useful measure in many ways, easily masks inequality between generations and locations. And if it isn’t measured, with the greatest respect to colleagues involved, it will not happen.

So, it is interesting that Mayor Andy Street wants to extend, and to make more consistent use of what is measured:

Does this amount to what the RSA terms ‘quality GVA’, i.e. inclusive growth? There is certainly space for it here, more so than before — and it is specifically referenced in the Policy Research Plan, which bodes well. I’d like to focus on this properly at some stage, so I will probably do a separate piece on that alone. Please remind me. For now, have a read of the item (p71 of agenda pack).

Appointment of WMCA Boards and Committees 2017- 2018

Indulge me — but I wanted to highlight that the number of women on the WMCA Overview & Scrutiny Committee has doubled to a mighty six (including me). Of 20, admittedly. But there are some places yet to be filled, so it could yet improve. PROGRESS, LADIES. They’ll let us be interested in the economy yet, I’d wager.

Policy Research Plan

The Policy Research Working Group — a blend of representatives from Universities, the Black Country Economic Intelligence Unit and various others — has laid out the following priorities to underpin the draft annual plan (attached to the item in what I note are Microsoft Word’s default fonts):

I think we have all had quite enough of hot beds for one summer, amirite?

Joking aside, the mission of the group sounds pretty good:

The WMCA offers a unique opportunity to use our assets to drive innovation using research. We believe that the West Midlands should be viewed as a huge field lab where innovations can be carefully tested. We have active communities, forward thinking organisations and stakeholders to suit any issue so we can confidently test and trial innovations. Research will help play a pivotal role in determining solutions and how to deploy them, using robust mechanisms to maximise learning so we can know what works and deliver improvements for West Midlands residents.

Given the pressing silence of the Public Service Reform strand of work, it is genuinely pleasing to read something that talks about the people of our region who most need to benefit from the WMCA’s work:

Another cohort of people it reaches out to — for partnership this time — is students:

…potential for Masters, PhD, and post-doctorate students to contribute to the Plan through assignments, projects and placements.
…potential for collaborative sponsorship of degree apprenticeships and doctoral students focused on WMCA research priorities.

The paper also acknowledges the intention of the region to achieve “genuine devolution” — positive because it is both realistic about what we have so far (i.e. not devolution) and ambitious. Later, it is clear that fiscal devolution is a serious consideration, as it forms part of the planned research for this year.

The Annexes are also interesting — they cover research already completed, research they plan to undertake (p114), notably around fiscal devolution, scrutiny (#waitsbyphone), inclusive economic growth, various strands on health/skills/criminal justice, etc. Have a look.

Minutes of the Audit, Risk & Assurance Committee — 28 April 2017

Worth highlighting the section of the minutes that refers to the 28-item Risk Register:

A new risk had been escalated to the register as a medium risk which refers to staff engagement, as there was a number of senior posts vacant in the leadership team.

I suspect it will not be long before these are filled, although appointment dates and start dates can be very different for people working at that level.

Minutes of the Wellbeing Board — 19 May 2017

Under the ‘One Public Estate’ item, which links to some of the strands of work in the various Sustainability and Transformation Plans that cover the region, there were welcome resolutions on the retention of assets (and their value) locally, in line with the recommendations in the Naylor Review:

Responding to the Government’s Consultation on Increasing the Regional Impact of Channel 4 Corporation

This relates to Channel 4’s potential relocation to the West Midlands, as you will recall from previous meetings.

Here, the Board is being asked to delegate authority to the Mayor, the Leaders of Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley and Solihull and the three LEP Chairs to agree the final response to be submitted to Government on 5 July 2017. This response is currently being prepared by KPMG and BOP Consulting.

Other than that, there doesn’t seem to be much more here relative to last meeting.

West Midlands HS2 Growth Board — Future Governance and Programme Support

Note here that the WMCA will now (instead of Birmingham City Council) meet the costs of the team leading on HS2 from its Investment budget — at a cost of £288,255 per year:

Given that more than half of the WMCA’s currently projected investment budget will be spent on HS2, this makes sense.

Land Commission update

The WMCA is working on a collective response to the Land Commission, and a cross-area group of officers are forming a task and finish group to look at the following:

This report should come back to Board in September, by which stage (one assumes), we will have had two further general elections and living under the sea.

Swift Vending Machine Wider Rollout

Coming soon to a city near you…

The Wolverhampton pilot has been a success (reaching almost 100 purchases per week within six weeks), so we’re getting more Swift vending machines! Are you one of the lucky ones?

Swift on rail at Non-Constituent Member stations

Also on Swift, the Board will be asked to agree to the ‘migration’ (bird pun alert) of the nNetwork and nTrain ‘Add-on’ tickets onto the Swift platform, with a view to bringing the Swift card experience to Non-Constituent Member residents travelling on the rail network into the West Midlands.

This should be in place from July 2017, in the following areas:

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