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Labour group leader calls for more inclusivity over combined authority discussions in Lichfield and Burntwood

The leader of the Labour party in Lichfield and Burntwood has called for discussions over a proposed new Greater Birmingham combined authority to be more inclusive.

Lichfield District Council’s Conservative leader Mike Wilcox was involved in discussions earlier this week with other local authority leaders from across the region about proposals to create a new ‘Midlands powerhouse’.

The offices of Lichfield District Council. Pic: Lichfield District Council

The offices of Lichfield District Council. Pic: Lichfield District Council

Media reports had suggested that a deal was likely to be agreed, but Cllr Wilcox insisted no decisions had been made.

But Cllr Sue Woodward, leader of the Labour opposition group, said there should be and end to “cosy meetings” where deals are “stitched up”.

“I was surprised to learn about this meeting on the Greater Birmingham proposal,” she said. “I’ve said before that there may be advantages for parts of Staffordshire to join because it’s our travel to work area and a focus for many local people in areas like Cannock Chase, Lichfield and Tamworth.

“But to read about discussions was a bit of a surpriase. I want to make sure that council leaders are discussing this with members though. After all, they know what’s happening on the ground and what communities think about the prospect of combined authorities.

“Rather than having cosy chats in private rooms amongst leaders, they’ve got to be a bit more inclusive about the way negotiations go forward.

Cllr Sue Woodward

Cllr Sue Woodward

“I’ve asked Robert Strachan, chair of the strategic overview and scrutiny committee, if it can be discussed as a matter of urgency next week because we all need to be involved in this discussion.

“There should be no deals stitched up in private meetings – I want to see details discussed correctly and openly.”

Chancellor George Osborne also spoke at the meeting in Birmingham to outline the choices on offer to councils.

Cllr Wilcox promised that no deal would be struck if there was nothing in it for Lichfield and Burntwood – and Cllr Woodward has said the implications of any agreement needed to be fully examined and understood.

“There are real opportunities being presented to all local authorities by the combined authority model,” she said. “I don’t want to throw out baby out with the bathwater and say we don’t want to benefit from these opportunities.

“But we need to look at implications. For example, if we do go in with a Greater Birmingham combined authority what will be the implications for us as a small shire district in a county on the fringe of the conurbation? Will it be that resources are sucked into more deprived and disadvantaged areas or will we get benefits too?

“What I don’t want to see are the likes of Lichfield District Council getting the disadvantages but none of the advantages in terms of transport networks etc.

“We’ve got to make sure that if a small district goes into a combined authority – be it Birmingham or Staffordshire – that we don’t miss out because we haven’t got the clout of the big metropolitan authorities.”

Discussions are set to take place with Staffordshire County Council to understand what their view is on the combined authority issue and what impact it could have on Lichfield District Council.

There are fears in some quarters that any move towards a Greater Birmingham authority could lead to Lichfield being used to meet the housing needs of other areas.

Cllr Woodward said these were the sort of questions which needed to be answered.

“I’ve got a liberal view about housing need,” she said. “If Birmingham or wherever needs them then it’s because people need homes. That’s a pre-requisite to a stable society and community.

“But we don’t want it to be a fait accompli that there’s a done deal on housing. There needs to be negotiations with all members so a genuine community view is being sought.

“There’s a flirtation with both Staffordshire and Greater Brimingham on the combined authority and one of the issues I raised regularly is whether or not we were right to be putting eggs in two local enterprise partnership baskets. I always received assurances that it was in Lichfield District Council’s benefit.

“There are some real threats to local government at the moment but some real opportunities as well – we need to make sure we cash in on the right opportunites.”

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12 Comments

  1. Rob

    5th June, 2015 at 2:49 pm

    “they know … what communities think about the prospect of combined authorities.”

    Such a revelation must come as quite a shock to vast swathes of this community.

  2. Sue woodward

    5th June, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    Depends where you live, Rob. Do you want to give us a clue? Labour councillors, for example, have held regular advice surgeries for many years now as well as street surgeries in order to get feedback from residents.

    Of course, in any single ward, there will be a whole spectrum of opinion and it’s as true now as ever that we can’t please all of the people all of the time. But, just occasionally, it would be refreshing if you gave some credit to those of us who work hard to fulfil our responsibilities as councillors rather than always taking a negative and cynical stance. How else would you organise society?

  3. Rob

    5th June, 2015 at 5:12 pm

    Yeah, it begins in Burnt and ends in wood.
    In 35 years living here I’ve never spoken to any councillors, and I suspect, neither have thousands of others.
    As for society, I’m not so sure it takes as much “organising” as some people like to think.
    Thanks for the reply.

  4. Steve Norman

    5th June, 2015 at 7:35 pm

    No wonder “Rob” gets so many thumbs down! He could have come along to any of the 100 surgeries I held, or other meetings we called on issues from the threatened closure of our Recycling Centre to the cancellation of Burntwood’s promised Health Centres. He could have come to a recent WS7 event or the Neighbourhood Planning meeting. Easier just to type in a few negative comments I suppose.
    Happy to visit him and promise not to let on where he lives if that’s what he wants.

  5. Rob

    6th June, 2015 at 9:16 am

    I’m not concerned by the thumbs dons so you needn’t concern yourself.
    As for attending meetings, I’d like to have gone to the “Big Town” event in January. Unfortunately, the organisational genius behind it scheduled it for mid-morning on a Wednesday, when a quite a few of us are burdened by a nuisance that some people recognise as work.
    I never discovered any outcome from this gathering, radio-silence was maintained by those involved.
    I try my bit at negativity but I don’t think I’ll ever match your performance against our elected MP, really something to behold.
    No need for a visit, thanks.
    I innocently wondered how local councillors could claim to know how whole communities think when they only interact with a small proportion of them.
    The response has been most revealing.

  6. Steven Norman

    6th June, 2015 at 6:11 pm

    Thousands of newsletters delivered. Hundreds of doors knocked. Email, telephone and postal addresses all in the public domain. Councillors’ surgeries, like the one held this morning, advertised regularly (thanks Ross). Public meetings held in the evenings like the Neighbourhood Planning Listening event I chaired held at 6:30pm for the public http://tiny.cc/sja4yx (thanks Ross).
    On top of all this it was the Labour Group that ensured thousands of homes that receive LDC’s “In Touch” magazine were consulted about the future of local government services. Invitation is still open!

  7. Rob

    6th June, 2015 at 7:44 pm

    But no figures to detail the public response to all the newsletters, doors knocked etc.
    So I still don’t know how you manage to know how the whole community feels about anything or what the “Big Town” gathering achieved.

  8. Rob

    6th June, 2015 at 10:02 pm

    1400 responses.
    That’s not even enough to form a representative sample.

  9. Darryl

    7th June, 2015 at 9:06 pm

    Statistical analysis not your strong point Rob?

    On one hand you’re criticising a lack of a representative view and on the other you’re bemoaning those that provide it.

    It’s mildly confusing as your unwavering support for Mr Fabricant begs the question, how many times as he garnered your opinion over the last 23 years?

  10. Rob

    9th June, 2015 at 6:29 pm

    Looks like scrutiny only works one way.

  11. Rob

    20th June, 2015 at 11:52 am

    Sue_Woodward ‏@Sue_Woodward 23 hrs23 hours ago

    Don’t you just hate it when people say they know what you think without asking? Seems to be part of political strategy for local #Greens.
    4:39 am – 19 Jun 2015 · Details

    Couldn’t have put it better myself.