STRATFORD District Council has performed a u-turn on its decision not to join the West Midland Combined Authority (WMCA).
In October, members narrowly voted against becoming part of the authority, which will be made up of metropolitan councils in Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Solihull, Sandwell and Walsall.
But the issue was forced back onto the table by Coun Tony Jefferson and Coun Maurice Howse, who admitted the refusal to sign up had been a key factor behind his own decision to step down from The Cabinet in November.
A notice of motion was put forward by the pair with support from nine other councillors asking members to re-consider the decision.
And following a two hour debate at an extraordinary meeting this week, the original decision was overturned.
Key figures including town businessman, Denys Shortt, RSC executive director Catherine Mallyon, and Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s director of operations Philippa Rawlinson urged members to join the authority – citing the potential benefits of doing so.
Meanwhile councillors in favour of the move argued there was no viable alternative on the cards, and being a member could potentially open up funding streams, which would help towards the cost of future infrastructure and development in the district.
It has been argued such an authority – with devolved powers from central government – could help save money, promote economic growth, address transport issues for a population of some four million and bring in around £36.5million annually for the next 30 years.
In contrast, a number of councillors expressed concerns about the uncertainty of the WMCA in years to come.
They also feared the interests of people living in towns and rural areas could come second to those living in cities.
But when it came to the final decision, from 33 of the district’s 36 councillors present, just 11 voted against while 22 were in favour of joining the WMCA.
Council leader Chris Saint said: “I am pleased the district council has taken this decision and I aim to maximise the benefits for our district.
“This does not represent a ‘super council’ as each member of the combined authority retains its independence. It just means there will be better collaboration between councils on issues such as investment, skills, housing and economic development.
“We have always been a big believer in partnership working and where you cannot do things on your own, joining a partnership gives you greater resilience, greater freedom and greater spending powers allowing us to make sure our district benefits as much as possible.”
Bob Sleigh, chair of the WMCA shadow board, added: “We warmly welcome Stratford’s decision – it strengthens our emerging combined authority further.”