Just as the West Midlands breathes a sigh of relief this week following announcements confirming that the undemocratic regional assemblies are to be phased out, we learn that the powers of the money-guzzling, unelected regional development agency, Advantage West Midlands, are to be strengthened to include housing, planning and transport policy (Birmingham Post, 18th July).
As the leader of Birmingham City Council Mike Whitby says, a regional development agency wielding this amount of power completely goes against the democratic ethos. With councils relegated to a scrutiny role, there seems to be no-one representing the taxpayer properly in vital decision making processes.
If our elected officials in local councils are to monitor and publicly scrutinize AWM, “sign off” on certain strategies drawn up by the agency, and ‘help’ draw up a combined spatial and economic policy alongside them, shouldn’t we be asking if it wouldn’t be entirely less complex to hand these powers directly to the council in the first place? Instead we are being faced with a complicated system whereby the public is distanced from the unaccountable organisation that spends their money and takes decisions as the council takes on the fairly redundant role of mediator.
Proving that councils will have little input on important policy making, they have been appeased with additional powers including responsibility for skills funding and, more dubiously, the option of burdening local businesses with extra levies, presumably using the revenue to fund AWM’s array of new strategies.
It’s clear that one unelected and undemocratic body has merely been usurped by another, and taxpayers are destined to have little direct influence on decisions taken on their behalf. Those in the West Midlands should despair at the strengthened powers of a body notorious for ill thought out initiatives and profligate spending.