Warwickshire will be part of combined authority

GV - Shire Hall, Warwick. NNL-161201-211317009
GV - Shire Hall, Warwick. NNL-161201-211317009
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Warwickshire will join a combined authority with the West Midlands after a turnaround decision by councillors on Tuesday.

Members voted 38 votes to 16 to spend £25,000 per year and become a non-constituent member of the emerging West Midlands Combined Authority after being told there was “never a better time” to secure a good deal.

The decision means the county council will be able to take part in talks and negotiations, but is not yet a fully signed up member and has no commitment to stay in if a deal is not beneficial to the council.

Supporting proposals during a lengthy debate, Cllr Izzi Seccombe, Conservative leader of the council said they simply wanted to ensure “the very best deal” by being part of negotiations.

She said: “This is a big decision for Warwickshire. We decided in March that we wanted to explore this and I will do my very best to get the very best deal now as there will not be another opportunity.”

Cllr Jerry Roodhouse (Lib Dem) welcomed the turnaround decision but expressed concern over what it could mean for district and borough councils which have opted out of the merger.

He said: “This is a complex issue and I don’t think it clear what the ask is for Warwickshire, but believe we should do this as one with the districts and boroughs together is we can.”

Warwick District Council has voted not to enter into the merger, but it is not known how the split could affect services.

Plans to take part in the new authority were dismissed last year but with rumoured pressure from the government for Warwickshire to take part and expected funding benefits, a deal could now be struck.

The council, which has no overall political control, is now overwhelmingly behind the plans - but they have divided the Conservative Party which is yet to agree on joining or remaining outside of the emerging body.

Despite welcoming the change, Cllr John Whitehouse (Lib Dem) said they needed to be very clear about the direction of travel the council wanted to go in before negotiations begin.

Cllr June Tandy (Lab) said: “This U-turn is because of the pressure being applied by central government for Warwickshire to take part.

“There are many benefits of becoming a member, especially in relation to funding and so we welcome this U-turn, though we believe it still does not go far enough.”

Cllr Colin Hayfield (Con) said while he felt joining was “inevitable”, Warwickshire should “try and speak with one voice” and not be sold short in membership deals.

After initial negotiations as a non-constituency member, further decisions on joining will be taken back to the council and to residents either through consultation or a referendum.