West Midlands businesses in devolution talks

From the left, Jonathan Browning (CWLEP), Cllr Ann Lucas (Coventry City Council), Sean Farnell (Chamber and FSB), Cllr Dennis Harvey (Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council) and Martin Yardley (CWLEP)

Coventry and Warwickshire businesses have been told that their interests will be at the “centre of the action” as a combined authority moves towards reality.

Around 80 businesses from across the area were brought up to speed on the devolution powers offered by the creation of a West Midlands Combined Authority and were able to voice issues and concerns to key players during a business engagement session at the Ricoh Arena.

The meeting – organised by the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership, Coventry City Council, the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses – was part of a wider engagement process which will help inform decision-makers as the authority comes to fruition this summer.

Jonathan Browning, chairman of the CWLEP, said it was vital that businesses understood what devolution would mean for Coventry and Warwickshire both in terms of investment which could be attracted as well as how its governance could impact on commerce.

He said: “The whole emphasis of a devolution deal is to attract more investment into the wider West Midlands so that the whole area can benefit and fulfil its potential and, obviously, business plays a central role in that.

“We have some fabulous economic assets in the shape of some of our leading companies, our people, our two universities, our cultural attractions and our location, yet our economic performance is only average. We need that to change and the devolution deal will play an important part in making that happen.

“It is the largest devolution deal done to date and will bring £36.5 million of funding per year for the next 30 years. It will unlock an £8 billion investment plan. There will be £500 million of investment for Coventry City Council in key developments and schemes, as well as major advancements in areas such as skills and transport which are cross regional.

“But there are factors which are, for business, unknowns at present. Warwickshire, for example, has elected not to join the combined authority and that is clearly a concern for business as the county and the city is a strong economic unit, and many of our institutions span the whole area. Also, an elected mayor, who will only cover the seven cities area, can propose to raise business rates, but only if the three LEPs across the relevant area agree, and that provision is crucial for business.”

Browning was joined on the panel by Coventry City Council leader and LEP board member Cllr Ann Lucas, Cllr Dennis Harvey (leader of Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council), Sean Farnell (Chamber and FSB representative on the LEP board) and LEP chief executive Martin Yardley.

Browning added: “It was a good, lively session and allowed businesses not only to be kept up to speed, but also to put their views personally to people who will be directly involved in the on-going process.”