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Simplify transport funding and devolve power – WMCA


21 August 2020

The West Midlands Combined Authority wants more transport powers and funding flexibilities. 

The proposals feature in a submission to ministers that aims to  influence the forthcoming ‘Local recovery and English devolution’ White Paper. 

The combined authority, led by Conservative mayor Andy Street, says a devolved single pot investment fund would be “the most important step Government could take to enable faster and more strategically targeted regional infrastructure investment”. 

“The current approach of bidding for a multitude of separate departmental funds, with different evaluation and monitoring systems, over different timespans undermines our ability to plan strategically and leverage further private investment,” it says. It illustrates the problems by citing the multi-modal Wolverhampton Interchange project. Initially planned in 2007, it is due to complete this year. 

“It required funding from multiple DfT streams with separate processes and has faced a myriad of barriers to progress: an overly complex public sector funding package; public bodies required to completely fund and deliver elements of the scheme before others could commence; multiple complex approval processes, e.g. to borrow against car park income; multiple assurances from different agencies on land contributions; and private sector reluctance to invest due to uncertainty.” 

The move to a single pot could begin by expanding the coverage of the DfT’s Transforming Cities Fund, the WMCA suggests.

It also wants: 

  • more borrowing powers, such as issuing municipal bonds
  • more responsibility for local rail
  • Bus Service Operator Grant and Covid-19 Bus Service Support Grant devolved
  • the flexibility to revise the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme and its payment arrangements to operators 
  • Transport for London-style powers over the Key Route Network of roads
  • the ability to apply for a Transport and Works Act Order without committed funding for the project being in place 
  • more flexibility to deliver innovation on local roads using Traffic Regulation Orders 

The Government should also review the case for allowing some tax revenues to be retained locally,  including Vehicle Excise Duty and Air Passenger Duty, it says.

The WMCA appears to oppose statutory status for sub-national transport body Midlands Connect. “Partnerships such as the Midlands Engine [which oversees Midlands Connect] should continue to be informal bodies addressing matters best dealt with at a pan-regional level, such as inter-regional transport connections, global trade and investment and pan-regional supply chains. They should not be placed on a statutory footing.” 

More civil servants should be seconded to local government, says the WMCA, and some  should be permanently moved to combined authorities and local authorities to reflect their expanded powers. 

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