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The secret bid by the 7 metropolitan councils for a West Midlands Combined Authority has been leaked. It is a government-driven agenda in the interest of employers. It is mainly about gaining access to additional funding streams for investment in economic growth. But there is also a section about bringing the education and training of the workforce in line with this agenda.

“The Government will … work with the WMCA to achieve:

  • Alignment of all Government driven or commissioned activity with the WMCA Employment & Skills Strategy and Outcomes Framework directed by a private sector led Employment & Skills Board

  • Alignment of EFA funded activity with the wider strategy and work towards greater involvement of the WMCA with the commissioning and shaping of 16-19 provision” [pp10-11. Emphasis in original]

We know that there is already a deep crisis of funding of FE colleges as provision is increasingly left to the private sector. But what is new in the bid document is the inclusion of all 16+ provision.

“The Government will … work with the WMCA to … Develop a wider review of FE provision across the CA which includes all 16+ provision including 6th forms…” (our emphasis)

The agreement doesn’t specify what powers the government and the 7 council leaders could seek to exercise over schools and sixth form colleges. But it does make clear the general aim: to align post-16 provision more closely with the perceived needs of employers. Furthermore, it needs to be read in conjunction with another aim of the WMCA in the bid: ‘to transform public service delivery across the area.’

This should set alarm bells ringing for everyone involved in education, including the schools, across the West Midlands. We should be urgently demanding what the agenda is that lies behind these statements in the bid, and that there is full and meaningful consultation with all interested parties before they are taken further.

What say will the schools and colleges, the unions of those who work in them, and local elected councillors, have in these policies? The WMCA is a top-down body where all the power is in the hands of the 7 council leaders and the directly elected mayor. Local councillors and their councils, including Birmingham, are marginalised. There is no equivalent of a local council at the West Midlands level to hold them to account.

There is a democratic alternative which would enable effective democratic decision-making: an elected West Midlands Combined Authority Assembly (which could be constituted in various ways).

This was the position taken by Birmingham Trades Union Council on 4 June this year. It resolved that ‘the WMCA represents a fundamental change in the model of local government in England, represents a threat to public services, their users and workers, and further undermines local democracy’ and called for ‘The creation of an elected WMCA Assembly, comprising either directly elected members or councillors from the constituent councils, in either case to be on the basis of proportional representation.’

For the leaked text of the bid see here.

For more on the WMCA on the BATC website see here.

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