Carrot of More Power If Councils Work Together; POLITICS ECONOMY Government Lays Down Challenge to Local Authorities

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Byline: JONATHAN WALKER Political Editor

Councils have been challenged to prove they can work together with the promise of more power and financial freedom.

The government has announced plans to create two pilot "city regions" with responsibility for issues such as transport, housing and job creation.

At the moment, councils are largely forced to follow instructions from London, or to sit back and watch regional bodies tackle the big issues.

But to win the new powers, neighbouring authorities will need to form voluntary agreements allowing them to make decisions together.

In the West Midlands, this would probably mean Birmingham working closely with neighbouring authorities in the Black Country and elsewhere.

There is already a body known as Birmingham, Coventry and the Black Country City Region, which includes Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Telford, Walsall and Wolverhampton councils. However, it serves mainly as a platform for council leaders to hold discussions with each other.

Birmingham City Council has launched a campaign demanding far more control over city services, including a role in policing and health services.

But it has also said that some decisions, such as transport and economic development policies, would need to be made on a city region level.

Plans to devolve power to city regions were included in the Pre-Budget Report published by chancellor Alistair Darling, this week.

To be considered as one of the two pilot areas, councils will need to draw up joint proposals showing they are ready to work in partnership. …