The West Midlands is a metropolitan county in western central England with a 2011 estimated population of 2.74 million. It came into existence as a metropolitan county in 1974 after the passage of the Local Government Act 1972, formed from parts of Staffordshire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire. The county itself is a NUTS 2 region within the wider NUTS 1 region of the same name. The county consists of seven metropolitan boroughs: the City of Birmingham, the City of Coventry, and the City of Wolverhampton, as well as Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, and Walsall.
The West Midlands County Council was abolished on 31 March 1986, since when the county's constituent metropolitan boroughs have been effectively unitary authorities. However, the metropolitan county continues to exist in law and as a geographic frame of reference. It forms the basis of county-wide bodies such as West Midlands Police, the West Midlands Fire Service and the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive, and as a ceremonial county has a Lord Lieutenant and a High Sheriff.
The county is sometimes described as the "West Midlands metropolitan area" or the "West Midlands conurbation", although these have different, and less clearly defined, boundaries. The main conurbation, or urban area, does not include Coventry for example. The name "West Midlands" is also used for the much larger West Midlands region, which sometimes causes confusion.
Although the modern county has only existed since 1974, the settlements of the West Midlands have long been important centres of commerce and industry as well as developing a good local infrastructure. Coventry was one of England's most important cities during the Middle Ages, with its prosperity built upon wool and cloth manufacture. Birmingham and Wolverhampton have a tradition of industry dating back to the 16th century, when small metal-working industries developed. Birmingham was known for its manufacture of small arms, whereas Wolverhampton became a centre of lock manufacture and brass working. The coal and iron ore deposits of the Black Country area provided a ready source of raw materials. The area grew rapidly during the Industrial Revolution, and by the 20th century had grown into one large conurbation. Coventry was slower to develop, but by the early 20th century, it had become an important centre of bicycle and car manufacture.
1966 saw a substantial reform in the local government of the area as the patchwork of county boroughs with municipal boroughs and urban district councils in between was replaced by a core of county boroughs covering a contiguous area, roughly as follows:
Around the periphery of this area, three other towns remained separate (Halesowen, Stourbridge and Sutton Coldfield), while Aldridge and Brownhills joined to form a single unit, called Aldridge-Brownhills. In the same year, a single West Midlands Constabulary was formed for the Black Country county boroughs, whilst Birmingham retained its Birmingham City Police and Solihull continued being policed by the Warwickshire Constabulary. The West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority was established in 1968.
In 1974, the Local Government Act 1972 came into effect, creating the metropolitan county of West Midlands. This area was based on the seven county boroughs and the other non-county boroughs and urban districts around the fringe of the conurbation. The new area consisted of seven new metropolitan boroughs, with Aldridge-Brownhills added to Walsall; Halesowen and Stourbridge to Dudley and Sutton Coldfield to Birmingham. A new borough of Sandwell was formed by the merger of West Bromwich and Warley. The actual designation of Warley itself was abolished and the three towns of Smethwick, Oldbury and Rowley Regis reinstated as component parts of Sandwell, although these areas formed the Warley postal district. Solihull took in much of the suburban fringe to the east of Birmingham, including the former villages of Chelmsley Wood and Castle Bromwich, also Birmingham Airport, and the area of countryside between Solihull and Coventry, whilst Coventry itself received only small changes and Wolverhampton was unaltered. This led to (apart from in the east, with Coventry and the Meriden Gap) quite a tightly defined metropolitan border, excluding such places as Burntwood, Bromsgrove, Cannock, Kidderminster, Lichfield and Wombourne which had been considered for inclusion in the West Midlands metropolitan area by the Redcliffe-Maud Report. The 1974 reform created the West Midlands County Council that covered the entire area and dealt with strategic issues. A new West Midlands Police service was formed covering the entire area, with the West Midlands Constabulary and Birmingham City Police abolished, and also taking over responsibility from the county forces.
Margaret Thatcher's government abolished the metropolitan county councils with the Local Government Act 1985, in March 1986, causing the seven metropolitan boroughs to become de facto unitary authorities with most of the county councils' functions given to the district councils.