10 Mar 2015

Dear colleagues we are pleased to announce a collaborative PhD studentship between the Department of Town and Regional Planning, University ofSheffield, the Regional Studies Association (RSA) and the Taylor & Francis Group. The supervisors for this project are Prof. Gordon Dabinett and Dr.Alasdair Rae (University of Sheffield) and Sally Hardy (Regional Studies Association). If you are interested please read through the details below:

Project Title:  The creation and reproduction of policy relevant spatial knowledge and new publishing models: A case study of regional studies.

  • Are you interested in the relationships between academic knowledge and policy action?
  • Do you think the impact of regional studies research can be increased?
  • Do you want to take part in a collaborative PhD supported by the Regional Studies Association and Taylor & Francis to explore how new publishing models are changing the regional studies community of interest?

If so, then this PhD studentship will be of interest to you.

To Apply:

We welcome applications from a wide range of subject/disciplinary backgrounds in the social sciences such as geography, planning, business and management studies or politics. We also recognise the value of practice-based experience, and will consider candidates with substantial experience.

These awards are only available to nationals from the UK and EU. UK applicants will be eligible for a full award (paying fees and maintenance at standard Research Council rates). EU applicants are normally eligible for a fees only award, unless they have been resident in the UK for 3 years immediately preceding the date of the award.

Enquiries and further details about making an application should be made to Prof. Gordon Dabinett: g.e.dabinett@sheffield.ac.uk and are available here.

9 Mar 2015

We are pleased to announce that as part of the Regional Studies Association's 50th anniversary new funding schemes and increased funding for Research Networks have been agreed. By offering these, the Association is seeking to raise the profile of regional research and its contribution if appropriate, to policy and practice. Research awards will be judged on the basis of the excellence of the research proposal and the ability of the applicant to communicate the results of the research broadly.

Please note that these schemes are open to RSA members only. However, non-members are encouraged to apply and join the RSA at the same time (not applicable for the Fellowship Research Grant).

Early Career Grant Scheme

This award is open to single applicants in their early career (five years maximum between the date showing on the PhD certificate and the application deadline). Applicants must be based within an eligible higher education institution (HEI) and must be a current, early career member of the RSA and throughout the duration of the grant. Please note that applicants may join the RSA as members at the same time as applying for the grant.

  • Value: up to £10,000 (or its equivalent in US$ or € depending upon the exchange rate at the time of the award).
  • Timeframe: Maximum time span of 18 months and reporting conditions apply.
  • Application process: From 2015 a two stage application process applies.
  • Application deadline (first selection round): 31st July 2015, 3pm (GMT)
  • Webpage: www.regionalstudies.org/funding/page/early-career-grant-scheme 

Membership Research Grant

This is a new research funding scheme introduced in 2015 which is intended primarily to provide opportunities for mid-career scholars who have already published in the field of regional studies and or science and who are current Individual members of the RSA.

  • Value: up to £5,000 (or its equivalent in US$ or € depending upon the exchange rate at the time of the award).
  • Timeframe: Maximum time span of 18 months and reporting conditions apply
  • Application process: A two stage application process applies
  • Application deadline (first selection round): 8th May 2015, 3pm (GMT)
  • Webpage: www.regionalstudies.org/funding/page/rsa-MeRSA-Grant

Fellowship Research Grant

This new award is open to Fellows of the RSA only. RSA Fellows are members who have been continuous members for a minimum of 5 years and who have also been defined as “active members”. This means that they have contributed to the life of the Association through serving on the Board or committees, have spoken at conferences, have applied for funding etc. Please email the membership team at membership@regionalstudies.org to check your eligibility for this category of membership.

  • Value: up to £7,500 (or its equivalent in US$ or € depending upon the exchange rate at the time of the award).
  • Timeframe: Maximum time span of 18 months and reporting conditions apply
  • Application process: A two stage application process applies
  • Application deadline (first selection round): 8th May 2015, 3pm (GMT)
  • Webpage: www.regionalstudies.org/funding/page/rsa-fellowship-research-grant-scheme 

2015-2016 Research Networks’ Funding Scheme

In 2015, the Association introduced an increased Research Networks’ funding scheme which is part of the 50th Anniversary celebration of the Association and available in 2015 and 2016 only. RSA Research Networks are formed by RSA members interested in meeting to examine an issue that responds to the aims and goals of the Association and is of interest and concern to members of the Association as well as non-members. The issue needs not necessarily to have a direct policy focus but the examination would normally lead to policy related conclusions.

  • Value: up to £10,000 (or its equivalent in US$ or € depending upon the exchange rate at the time of the award).
  • Timeframe: minimum of 3 years and reporting conditions apply
  • Application deadline: 31st July 2015, 4pm (GMT)
  • Webpage: http://www.regionalstudies.org/research

In addition to these research funding schemes, the RSA also offers Travel Grants.

Travel Grants

The RSA offers its members’ up to £500 towards travel and accommodation costs when attending a non -SA event. Recipients of the Travel Grant must be a member of the Association at the time of the application, at the time of travel and claim. Non-members are encouraged to apply and join the RSA at the same time.

  • Value: up to £500 (or its equivalent in US$ or € depending upon the exchange rate at the time of the award).
  • 2015 application deadlines: Friday 29th May, 3pm (GMT); Friday 28th August, 3pm (GMT); Friday 27th November, 3pm (GMT).
  • Webpage: http://www.regionalstudies.org/funding/page/rsa-travel-grant

For more details on these funding schemes, please see the specific web pages or email to office@regionalstudies.org .

3 Feb 2015

This is a guest post by Dr. Ulrich Graute. He is an International Cooperation and Development Expert (UN, EU, national) and Senior Adviser, as well as a board member of the Regional Studies Association. Ulrich talks about the engagement of the RSA in the global dialogue regarding sustainable development and how the organization became well established as a dialogue partner for the United Nations.

Would you agree that academics and politicians are often found in a love-hate relationship?

Politicians don’t like abstract discussions in the ‘ivory tower’ of academia, while they have to face ‘real problems in real life’. At the same time, they know that they need input from academia to better understand the world and identify solutions for impending problems. 

In contrast, academics often consider the pragmatism in politics as incompatible with the necessary rigidity of scientific approaches and methods. Thus, they often prefer staying among their peers and epistemic communities. Of course, what scholars like most next to their research is that somebody takes note and listens to their findings, applies research results and keeps funding academic work. Well, and because politicians are important gatekeepers to make that happen, many scholars and academic institutions (including RSA) build networks not only within academia but also with the world of decision-makers in politics and administration.

RSA is going beyond the academic world

The RSA obviously understands the primary interest of its members in academic exchange and, not surprisingly, the increasing number of academic events and research journals became a hallmark of the association and its success. At the same time RSA was, is and hopefully will always remain open for practitioners and will contribute to bridge any gap between regional science, urban and regional planning and politics. 

Where this is especially fruitful this are the academic and policy debates organized by EU Commission and RSA together with Latvian partners in form of the already second joint EU Cohesion Policy Conference in Riga, 4 - 6 February 2015.  

There is nothing similar, which could be said about the relation between RSA and the UN. The canyon between regional science and global politics and programmes is so deep that they not even share the same understanding on what is understood by a region. Whereas regional researchers usually refer to sub-national entities and occasional to cross-border areas, the global experts e.g. at the UN refer almost exclusively to world regions like Africa or Europe when they talk or write about regions. 

This division is nuts because neither practical politics nor academic work can ignore interrelations between policy levels and economic, social and environmental trends which go beyond single regions and countries. For RSA with its increasingly global membership and conference schedule between China, Brazil and Europe it was only a matter of time, until it realised that it was time to knock at the door of the UN.

Knocking at the door of the UN and getting engaged in the global dialogue on sustainable development

Following the implementation of Millennium Development Goals (MDG) between 2000 and 2015, the member states of the United Nations are about to launch in September 2015 an even more ambitious agenda called Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Eradication of poverty and resilient cities worldwide are just two of the challenging goals. 

RSA is in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council ECOSOC of the UN since 1984 but for most of the time was not active at the UN level. This changed last year when RSA Board Members got involved in UN events. I attended the first Integrated Segment of ECOSOC on Sustainable Urbanization and Gordon Dabinett participated at the UN expert group proposing International Guidelines to shape the Sustainable Development of Cities.

Now in 2015 and just months before the launch of the SDG the intergovernmental negotiations are entering their final stage. In this situation, the UN Secretariat held a preparatory forum for major groups, including academia and other civil society stakeholders. Again RSA took part in the event but by now RSA is listed on the Roster of ECOSOC, meaning that thanks to its contribution RSA is now well known at the UN and shortlisted for future cooperation. 

27 Jan 2015

This is a guest post by Dr. Sabrina Lai, RSRS EC Editor and Paper Manager. Sabrina is a Research Fellow at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Architecture of the University of Cagliari (Italy), and an officer at the Department of the Environment of the Regional Administration of Sardinia.

As an Editor of the Early Career Section of Regional Studies, Regional Science, three or four times per year I take part in the selection of proposals that, once accepted, will undergo a “constructive review process” designed to help Early Careers improve the craft of academic writing and have their first independent paper published.

Last year (2014) we received and evaluated some 80 proposals, which gives us an informed insight into popular areas in the field of regional studies among young academics: smart specialization strategies, research and innovation, Florida’s creative class seem to be really in fashion these days! However, as someone deeply involved, both in academia and in policy-making, in environmental planning and related issues, I find the very small number of proposals we receive dealing with the role of regions in environmental matters or with environmental challenges at the regional scale really striking. The small number of submissions in the field obviously leads to a comparatively low number of environmental-related papers published in the journal: if we look back at the sixteen papers published in 2014 in the Early Career Section of the first year of Regional Studies, Regional Science, only one paper (by Maxwell Douglas Hartt) specifically deals with an urgent environmental problem (that is, impacts of storm surges in coastal areas).  Three other papers (by Kirstie O’Neill, Laura McKim, and Xiaohui Hu) do touch upon environmental-related issues (respectively, local food production, active commuting, and renewable energy) but with different perspectives (such as food security, urban density, path creation) without being precisely focused on the environmental dimension, consequences or implications.

And yet the role of regions is crucial in the achievement of many global targets, since they can contribute to ensuring air quality objectives, promoting efficient use of natural resources, implementing the Convention on Biological Diversity, increasing the share of renewables and reducing energy consumption, to name just a few... or at least this is what we get from a careful examination of the work of the Commission for Natural Resources (NAT) and of the Commission for Environment, Climate Change and Energy (ENVE) of the Committee of the Regions of the European Union, who stated that “The transition to a sustainable future requires a multi-level governance approach; since resources and industries vary significantly from one region to the next, subnational and local governments are often best positioned to create tailored and efficient policies”.

There are a number of reasons that contribute towards explaining the low submission of environmental-related proposals. Out of these, I think that two are of particular importance.

Firstly, a perceived marginality of such topics in the field of regional studies and, related to that, the idea that “this is not the right audience” or that “other journals could offer a more suitable ground”, might play a key role. However, authors can still benefit from submitting their work to RSRS provided that they keep in mind that RSRS has a wide and varied audience, so they should carefully think about the aim of the article and structure it accordingly. Even though not many of them will be really accustomed to heavily technical or scientific language and details, “generalist readers interested in Regional Studies can understand even fairly complex techniques, as long as there is a clear explanation accompanying them – the trick lies in how you write the paper for this audience […] Do not ‘dumb down’ the explanations but – at the same time – use common sense to guide you in what a generalist reader would be expected to know or would need to know in order to follow your arguments”, as my colleague Paul Braidford wrote in a previous post about econometrics - just replace “complex techniques” with scientific language, specialised scientific topic, environmental modelling and the like.

The second important factor, to my mind, could lie in the extremely flexible and loose definition of a “region” when talking about environmental matters, which leads to different overlapping and even contrasting conceptualisations of regions, even in the same area: it is one thing, for instance, to think of a region in reference to management of water resources, and a very different thing to figure out what a region is when discussing climate change or integrated coastal zone management. This is actually not an issue as long as the underlying idea of the “region” is clearly explained, since “the ‘regional’ dimension may vary from trans-national spaces with fuzzy boundaries to clearly defined spaces at the sub-national level”, as potential authors can read in the call for paper proposals.

To sum up, we would be very pleased to receive more proposals related to environmental topics and to find out what the implications for academics, policy and practice at the regional scale are!
Please be aware that a call for proposals is now open and that the next deadline is February 15!

19 Jan 2015

We kick off this year with an anniversary joint guest post by our own RSA Chair Andrew Beer and RSA CEO Sally Hardy who wanted to express their reflective thoughts and hopes for the future regarding the Association, as this year we celebrate the 50th year of the Regional Studies Association.

Welcome to 2015, the 50th year of the Regional Studies Association!  

Since 1965 the Association has achieved a great deal in terms of fostering academic debate, engaging with policy agendas, building links with practitioners and encouraging the publication of high quality research.   The Association has moved from being a UK-focused entity to one with a truly global reach, and at the end of 2014 the RSA achieved its highest ever membership.  The launch of the China Division in September of 2014 was important at both a symbolic and practical level – reflecting a renewed commitment to engage with a global community of scholars working on regional issues.   

Where once we had a single major publication, now the Association runs a suite of four high-quality journals that place academic rigour at the forefront of their publishing efforts.  Our journals – Regional Studies; Spatial Economic Analysis; Territory, Politics, Governance and, Regional Studies, Regional Science are well regarded outlets about which we can feel justifiable pride.   Along the way there has been a great deal of innovation in the forms of publications we use – think, for example, of Regional Studies Regional Science our highly successful Open Access journal.  We also have an outstanding monograph series Regions and Cities that publishes high quality scholarship of relevance to our members. The monograph series serves us in two important ways: first it provides the teaching and research materials we need in our work; and, second, it provides an attractive outlet for our own scholarly activities.  We are always pleased to see the clustering of academics around Rob Langham – the Routledge Editor who frequently attends our conferences – as researchers pitch their ideas and look to disseminate their intellectual advances far and wide. 

As we have grown we have also been able to take a leading role in fostering the next generation of scholars, with our highly successful Early Career Researcher grants complemented by a very substantial commitment to assisting new scholars publish and to learn the craft of editing.  One of the remarkable features of the RSA is the relative youth of its membership.  Whereas many learned societies are dominated by those in the later stages of their careers, the RSA has a strong and vibrant cohort of younger members, contributing to the intellectual dynamism of the discipline and taking important roles in the management of the association. 

As an Association we have not endeavored to achieve growth for its own sake.  Instead, we remain deeply committed to our core goals of promoting regional research, debate and policy debate and, importantly, we recognize that regional issues do not acknowledge national borders.  We also accept that colleagues – and potential colleagues – working in other environments have important contributions to make to the issues we work upon.   For us, a larger debate around regional issues and policies is a better debate, as it is more inclusive, better informed and more likely to bring about positive change.  

The Association has been fortunate in being able to maintain many of its most attractive elements, despite change in academic life and policy environments.   There remains within the Association a commitment to intellectual life and the exploration of ideas, wherever they may lead.  There is also a focus on excellence, the importance of a good argument and a willingness to embrace a diversity of perspectives and methodologies.  Perhaps most importantly the Association has – as a cohort of colleagues – has been able to maintain its commitment to a sense of fun. Our conferences have been marked by both productive networking and engaging social events, including the formal dinners as well as the social/sporting events.   Who could forget the fierce competitiveness of some RSA staff members at the Tampere, Finland conference in the Floor Ball indoor version of hockey or the historic ten-pin bowling battles that have taken place at the Winter AGM?  I think the Association can take pride in the fact that we remain a human-focused organisation, with strong relationships between the members and our highly professional staff.  And I believe that an important part of that human orientation can be traced back to our regular newsletter – Regions – and Frank Peck and Gail Mulvey who orchestrate its production in an apparently seamless and effortless fashion. 

But a 50th year should not just be about looking back: there is much to anticipate for the coming year- and indeed the coming years – as the Association continues to evolve and develop.   In November last year the Board made a commitment to a number of new and exciting initiatives.  First, we will be working on the development on an exciting new journal focused on developing economies, this new outlet, entitled Area Development and Policy, will be led by Professors Mick Dunford and Wei Dong Liu based in Beijing.  Second, the Board has made a commitment to the introduction of two new grant schemes, one for Members of the Regional Studies Association and the other for Fellows of the Regional Studies Association.   Both initiatives were announced at the Winter Conference in London in November and those interested should check the website for details.  Third, we are moving toward the launch of our new Development Plan that will take us towards our 60th anniversary and into a new period marked by both opportunities and challenges. The Development Plan is already out for consultation, and we thank those RSA members who have already provided input.  Your thoughts and ideas have been very stimulating.  Fourth, in 2015 we will launch a major intellectual and policy initiative, that will both make clear the intellectual ambitions of the RSA and challenge policy makers to reprioritise their thinking. 

2015 promises to be an exciting year for RSA members in many ways.   The Piacenza Conference in May will be stimulating and an excellent opportunity to catch up with colleagues.  I encourage everyone to attend.  But in addition, we can also look forward to the Early Career Researcher Conference; an event in Melbourne, Australia in September and a major conference in Haungzhuo China, in November.   The year 2015 offers a cornucopia of opportunities to present your work, participate in academic debate and further develop your ideas.  We will of course, celebrate our 50th year in some considerable style, and there will be a major event associated with the Winter Conference in London in November. In 2014 the RSA returned the Winter Conference to a two day format, with considerable success, and we look to replicate that success this year.   Our Anniversary dinner is not to be missed.  

15 Dec 2014

In this guest post Paul Braidford talks about the difficulties of publishing easily understandable econometric research in Regional Studies, Regional Science journal and the difficulties encountered by authors, especially early career authors, in reducing the size and complexity of their work so that it can be published in a 3000 word or less article. 

Looking back over the 16 Early Career articles published so far in Regional Studies, Regional Science, it’s noticeable that – in comparison with the non-EC articles – very few employ any form of sophisticated statistical modelling or econometric analysis as the main basis of the paper.  Laura McKim uses logistic regression, but without any detailed reporting of the variables, equations or results and with only a brief discussion of the choice of method.  Maxwell Douglas Hartt discusses the use of a spatial-temporal modelling tool, but - again - the actual modelling results are only briefly reported.  Compare this with the non-EC articles.  Out of a similar number of papers, four (Otsuka et al, Aguiar et al, Cebula et al and an de Meulen and Mitze) focus on modelling or econometric analysis, with more details of results, variables and methods.

This is, it should be stressed, merely an observation, rather than any sort of judgement on the quality of papers, nor should any judgement be implied.  Nonetheless, it is worth investigating the reasons why this apparent divergence might have come about.  It is also worth noting that there are several more econometric-based EC papers in the pipeline.  But there’s always room for more...
What, then, are the important lessons to bear in mind for EC researchers potentially looking to submit a paper which uses econometric techniques, statistical modelling or similar?  And why are more such papers not being submitted?

There are, as far as I can see, two main factors which may discourage authors from submitting this type of paper. Neither is an absolute barrier, and they are to an extent inter-related, but both require some careful thought about how to report findings and structure the article.

First, there is clearly the length restriction.  To qualify for the fee waiver, EC papers must be 3,000 words or less.  This poses a difficulty in fully reporting results, and, equally, fully describing variables and techniques.  Second, the Early Career section of RSRS, in both its current form and its earlier incarnation as Regional Insights, has always stressed that we aim to publish articles on new ideas and fresh thinking, accessible to readers from the wide range of disciplines which fall under Regional Studies.  This may, unfortunately, discourage some potential authors from submitting papers based on novel statistical techniques, or which rely on the application of specific techniques in order to derive results, as they may believe they are too specialist or not accessible.

To take the second point first, it is clear that some papers are not right for the EC section, and would fit better in other journals. For example, papers which seek to develop methodological points would probably be more appropriately submitted to Spatial Economic Analysis.  But submitting to RSRS involves a different take on the issues; learning to communicate your ideas to a wider audience in a succinct manner is a valuable skill.  ‘Generalist’ readers interested in Regional Studies can understand even fairly complex techniques, as long as there is a clear explanation accompanying them – the trick lies in how you write the paper for this audience, rather than in how you do the analysis, necessarily.  Note the techniques you used, and a brief explanation of why they are being used, as well as any pros or cons.  Do not ‘dumb down’ the explanations but – at the same time – use common sense to guide you in what a generalist reader would be expected to know or would need to know in order to follow your arguments.  Anything more complex can be paraphrased, with a reference to be followed up by those desiring a fuller explanation.  RSRS mainly publishes papers which have clear implications for policy or practice, and articles should reflect that – i.e. clearly, but briefly, explain the methodology, variables and results, highlighting the most important points of relevance to policy makers or practitioners, with the full data available on request to those interested. Focus more heavily on the implications of the analysis.

In turn, this helps with problems of length. In summarising the statistical portions, this should leave sufficient space to concentrate more on the literature and implications, showing the reader – and the editors – that the author has understood the issues.(Alongside, of course, providing the full analysis to the reviewers, as you would expect, so that they can check for omissions or inadvertent errors.)

In short, then, we would welcome the submission of more EC abstracts using econometric techniques. Importantly, though, they need to make the effort to be accessible to non-specialists; to judiciously select the most relevant points to include in order to get the argument across; to include sufficient detail about the econometrics to make it clear how the analysis has been performed; and to clearly and concisely highlight the contribution of the paper to the wider field of Regional Studies.

Paul Braidford (@chigley2) is a Senior Research Fellow at Durham University and Editor for the Early Career Papers Section of Regional Studies, Regional Science. 

3 Dec 2014

Dear RSA members and readers we want to bring to your attention that NEMOG Consortium (New Economic Models for Digital Games) are holding the first NEMOG Symposium on ‘New Business Models for Games for Science and Society’ at Cass Business School in London on Tuesday, 16 December 2014.

The NEMOG project is investigating how we can innovate new business models to create commercial, social and scientific value from games and gameplay data, and how data mining techniques can be harnessed to understand game players in unprecedented detail.

This event will focus upon business models and will feature a keynote speech by Nicholas Lovell, founder of Gamesbrief and author of the bestseller ‘The Curve - From Freeloaders to Superfans’, in addition to a lively panel discussion on business models and opportunities for obtaining new social/scientific values from games.

After coffee (13:30-14:00), the main event will run from 14:00-18:00 with an informal evening event (on the theme of Business Models for Games) co-hosted by Playgen from 18:00-21:00.

If you would like to attend please RSVP to the NEMOG Administrator: Sarah Christmas T: + 44 (0)1904 325334, sarah.christmas@york.ac.uk

The full event schedule, and further information, can be viewed on the NEMOG webpages. For directions, please see Cass Business School, Bunhill Row.

Please feel free to pass this invitation to contacts working in related areas (who are also required to RSVP).

2 Dec 2014

This is a guest post by David Bailey, following the 2014 RSA Winter Conference. Professor David Bailey works at the Aston Business School. He has written extensively on economic restructuring and industrial and regional policy, especially in relation to manufacturing and the auto industry. He has been a regular commentator, columnist and blogger for a range of media outlets. He was Chair of the Regional Studies Association over 2006-12 and is now an Honorary Vice-Chair, and an Editor of the Association’s flagship journal Regional Studies. Tweet him @dgbailey

As many readers will be aware, the formation of a coalition government in 2010 marked an abrupt change in English regional development policy. The key feature of this policy shift was the abolition of the English Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) - with the exception of that in London.

In their place ‘Local Enterprise Partnerships’ (LEPs) emerged operating at the sub-regional scale. In the West Midlands, for example, the RDA has been replaced with six LEPs.

Despite this language of ‘localism’, many of the powers held by English RDAs, for example, on industrial policy, inward investment, business support and other policy areas were initially recentralised to London. Moreover, unlike RDAs, LEPs have had to operate without significant dedicated budgets until recently.

Another critical issue has emerged around how better cooperation between LEPs can be encouraged, and how stronger LEPs can be incentivised to cooperate with weaker LEPs. The need for joint LEP working can also be evidenced in the need to develop regional data and intelligence, as for example happened with the ‘old’ West Midlands Regional Taskforce.

Overall, I’d still argue that the old RDAs were often better positioned to make judgements about how best to offer support and to which clusters (and/or sectors) as they had a superior information base than central governments.

Indeed, a key lesson of our work studying regional responses to the last recession in a recent issue of Regional Studies (which can be read open access here) is that there remains a role for regional level coordination of local (LEP) economic and cluster strategies, most obviously via some sort of intermediate tier infrastructure.   

So news that the West Midlands has got its act together and will create a Combined Authority, Manchester style, to drive the devolution of new powers and resources, has to be welcomed.  

But, crucially, this is reinforced by news that local LEPs will join together to create a ‘Super LEP’ for the region that reflects that of the Combined Authority and could cover a population of over 3 million people. It could get us back to somewhere near where we were in 2009 before the RDAs were dismantled and we had some effective regional ‘join up’.

The hope is that the Combined Authority and Super LEP can together become the “linchpin” for economic recovery. That might sound a bit over-hyped but given that the West Midlands region really is getting on with the heavy lifting of increasing output, exporting and creating jobs, the council and business leaders backing the idea actually have a pretty good point.

On the combined authority, what this means is that council leaders from the four Black Country councils and Birmingham have made an agreement in principle to work together in a move which could pull in significant investment to create jobs and improve transport links.

Interestingly, this ‘Black Country Four plus Brum’ Combo have invited Solihull and Coventry, plus other neighbouring councils, to join the discussions, with the goal of building a “broad and deep coalition for prosperity” for the region. It could be a ‘Super Combined Authority’.

The move comes as the three main political parties have competed to offer more funding and powers to cities and regions that form Combined Authorities. The announcements over a Combined Authority and matching Super LEP means that the West Midlands will – finally - be able to take advantage of that opportunity along with other cities.

It’s a much needed move. As I’ve noted in previous Regional Studies blog posts, so far all the Combined Authority action had been happening up North and the West Midlands was in serious danger of missing out on devolution.

This is all became hugely pressing for the region after the recent report of the City Growth Commission. It nominated the existing five Northern combined authorities as the first city regions to have devolved powers, thus leaving out the West Midlands.

That in turn led to Sandwell leader Darren Cooper boldly throwing down the gauntlet to Birmingham in a ‘put up or shut up’ move. He managed to bang heads together to finally make a combined authority a real goer.

So we should congratulate the local authority leaders who have made this happen. What’s also impressive is that if Solihull and Coventry do join then that could create a ‘Super Combined Authority’ that really would make economic sense.

That’s critical as - at some point - a genuinely regional scale will have to be back on the agenda to join up the work of fragmented LEPs in the region. When it does, the lessons from the ‘old’ RDAs, both positive and negative, will need to be remembered.

Effective devolution needs an ability to join things up, to ‘think regionally’, and to have real control over policy areas like transport, regional economic development, health and welfare, the environment and tourism.  A West Midlands Super LEP and ‘Super Combo’ could start to do just that.

Whether or not the city region really needs a ‘Metro Mayor’ is another matter, though. Chancellor George Osborne, who has reportedly opened talks with the region over a possible devolution of powers and resources, has dropped heavy hints that he wants to see a West Midlands Metro Mayor as part of the package.

That may not be to the liking of the new Combined Authority who so far have opted for a more collaborative form of leadership than an elected Metro-Mayor, with an envisaged executive board made up of local council leaders, LEP Chairs, and possibly representatives of voluntary groups and unions.

If Osborne really does believe in devolution, he should let the Combined Authority choose the model that it thinks will best work locally, rather than imposing a ‘Metro Mayor’ from above.