GEORGE Osborne likely to want ‘Northern Powerhouse’ full house by Budget
SINCE George Osborne first set out his vision of a ‘northern powerhouse’ of joined up towns and cities led by elected mayors I’ve imagined him poring over a map of the North of England laid out in his office, shading in areas with marker pen as they agree to his devolution deals.
And as he looks over that map there is one area that currently spoils his picture. Yorkshire.
He thought he had South Yorkshire in the bag when he posed for pictures with the area’s council leaders last year after agreeing a proposed deal but now questions are being asked about the future mayor’s powers.
And there is still no sign of a breakthrough in the ongoing wrangle over which bits of West, North and East Yorkshire will team up with each other to assume devolved powers.
Greater Manchester, the North East, Tees Valley, Merseyside and West Midlands are all signed up. But not Yorkshire.
In 10 weeks, the Chancellor will deliver his Budget. It is unlikely he will want to do so with such a crucial piece of his northern powerhouse jigsaw missing. Remember, it was in last July’s Summer Budget that Mr Osborne announced to MPs that negotiations were under way with “Leeds, West Yorkshire and partner authorities on far reaching devolution of power”.
Which suggests the coming weeks will see decisions taken that will significantly shape how Yorkshire is run for years to come. And it remains to be seen what approach Mr Osborne takes.
Will he backtrack on his refusal to act as a referee in the dispute between the Greater Yorkshire and Leeds City Region camps? And if he does intervene, will it be with carrots or a stick?
And will he calculate that the collapse of the South Yorkshire deal would be more embarassing for local leaders than him and call their bluff or decide that watering down the mayor’s powers is a price worth paying?
Testing times too for local leaders. Some would privately question whether the deals put forward by the Treasury amount to significant devolution anyway.
But will any be willing to risk the perception, particularly among the business community, that Yorkshire is “falling behind” other parts of the North by not engaging?