Published in the Express and Star: October 29, 2012 12:35 pm
The Black Country and Staffordshire will be offered unprecedented powers to raise hundreds of millions of pounds to boost business, invest in public transport and improve the skills of the workforce.
More than 50,000 jobs are hoped to be created in Staffordshire with more in the Black Country after the regions were named as two of 20 invited today by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg to bid for a “city deal”.
Birmingham was one of eight cities given the go-ahead for such a scheme earlier this year and will create a £1.5 billion investment fund, which includes a £25m medical centre in Edgbaston.
Today’s announcement does not mean the Black Country or Staffordshire will definitely get the powers, but it means they are on the shortlist of areas allowed to come up with proposals of what it would do with them.
In the Black Country the deal would be likely to concentrate on making sites ready for redevelopment.
Examples could include the former Sunbeam factory in Wolverhampton, which remains boarded up on the Penn Road island.
In Staffordshire, council bosses have suggested seeking new powers to exploit new energy sources and providing sites to attract new businesses to develop them in a scheme they expect to be worth around £1bn.
The region’s councils will be demonstrating their commitment by securing public and private sector investment.
In return, they will ask the Government for support by providing access to cheap finance, expertise to help implement the programmes, exemptions from rules that restrict their ability to create jobs and new powers to reform public services.
It comes after a series of job boosting schemes for the region.
The Black Country has been granted an Enterprise Zone comprised of the i54 business park and surrounding plots of land in Wolverhampton, where Jaguar Land Rover is building a new £355m engine plant.
There are also 15 plots of land in Darlaston. The zone will benefit from relaxed planning laws, superfast broadband and a business rate holiday for businesses. Once that holiday ends, the councils will be able to keep more than £100m in rates to use for new infrastructure.
Just over a week ago the Government also announced more than £28m for the Black Country from the Regional Growth Fund in the form of grants to businesses.
It includes a £1.4m fund that the Express & Star and University of Wolverhampton can use to offer grants of up to £50,000 to help small businesses to grow.
Speaking to the Express & Star, Mr Clegg said he wanted regions to develop a “competitive spirit”.
He said: “Businesses will need to be involved and councils will need to co-operate more with each other. We want to get a competitive spirit going between those who want to draw down powers from Whitehall.
“They would be able to keep more of the money they raise rather than sending it to the vaults of the Treasury.”
It will be up to the councils in the region, along with business leaders in their Local Enterprise Partnerships, to decide what powers they want and how to use them.
If the government agrees it will loosen central government control and allow councils to bind together as legal bodies to more effectively get through planning, infrastructure and transport decisions that are of benefit to the whole region, rather than just one council area.