Autumn devolution deal unlikely

James Wharton arrives in Downing Street  for talks Prime Minister David Cameron where he was made  Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government with responsibility for the Northern Powerhouse. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday May 12, 2015. Photo credit should read: John Stillwell/PA Wire
James Wharton arrives in Downing Street for talks Prime Minister David Cameron where he was made Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government with responsibility for the Northern Powerhouse. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday May 12, 2015. Photo credit should read: John Stillwell/PA Wire
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infighting between councils and disagreements on how Yorkshire should be goverened has put the brakes on a devolution deal being brokered with the Government this Autumn.

It had been expected that Chancellor George Osborne would use the Government’s Autumn Statement to announce which one of the six proposals handed into Government from politicians in Yorkshire would get a multi-millon pound funding offer.

Before the party conference in September it was announced that Sheffield is to be the second city after Manchester to win a devolution package if they adopt a directly electeed mayor.

Both the Greater Yorkshire plan, which includes north, west and east Yorkshire, and the Leeds City Region were hopeful for clarity from Government during November’s statement.

However minister for the Northern Powerhouse James Wharton said the ‘challenges’ facing Yorkshire mean that local authority leaders should prepare themselves that a power transfer from Whitehall to Yorkshire isn’t immediately around the corner.

Addressing a meeting of MPs from Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire he said: “I recognise some of the challenges that people need to overcome to find a model that has agreement across Yorkshire, whatever that might look like, so that we can settle on something that we can deliver in the interests of Yorkshire going forward.

“The Spending Review is important in terms of our overall devolution agenda. While we are keen for areas to press ahead I think that at this time there’s not going to be anything imminently announced in the Yorkshire area and I don’t see any reason why it should be disadvantaged by that.

“I recognise some of the challenges and we will take account of that in discussions that we are having in the Spending Review and discussions we are having with colleagues in Yorkshire.

“We want the right decision, we want it as quickly as you can do it, if you want to do it, but we are not going to push you to a time.”

Disagreement over which areas of Yorkshire naturally align with each other, whether authorities should accept a directly elected mayor, and rows over control over transport have blighted discussions over the past year on how to proceed with devolution.

In September a variety of options were handed in to the Government and at the meeting of the All Party Group for Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire MPs in Westminster yesterday, Conservative MP for the Colne Valley, Jason McCartney, suggested that the majority of regional MPs are in favour of a Greater Yorkshire plan that includes the largest geographical area.

Mr Wharton said that no plan was in the lead and that proposals for Yorkshire would not be taken in isolation. Nothing will be delivered at the expense of opportunities that should exist in another area, he added.

He said there will be more devolution announcements in the coming weeks for other areas of the UK, but there is still time for Yorkshire since powers don’t get transferred until May 2017 when a mayor is elected.

He said: “We are not so time pressured that I want to put an undue emphasis on Yorkshire. I recognise the challenges that Yorkshire is working through at the moment. I feel that at this time with the facts I have available to me I would not want to set an Autumn Statement deadline for Yorkshire because of the particular challenges that Yorkshire is dealing with.”