Background: The political dealings over a Yorkshire mayor

Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive Sir Gary Verity
Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive Sir Gary Verity
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TODAY is Yorkshire Day but as the celebrations toast all that is good about God’s Own County, in the background some crucial political manoeuvrings are taking place.

They are so serious they could lead to unprecedented splits, and the biggest change to the county’s make up since Humberside was abolished almost 20 years ago.

Initially the thought of a Yorkshire mayor was lauded as a way of uniting the county, and Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive Sir Gary Verity spoke for many when he said it should stand as one and promote the “fantastically good Yorkshire brand”.

Politicians are negotiating Government deals to have extra powers handed over from Whitehall, with ministers demanding the creation of directly elected mayors in return.

Greater Manchester is pressing ahead, having signed a devolution agreement, and with its first election for mayor scheduled for 2017.

But in Yorkshire, it has not been so straightforward. The county is so big that some doubt whether a mayor could fairly represent such a large and diverse area.

Initial concerns surfaced when councils in South Yorkshire said they would not be keen on one mayor for the whole county, preferring to throw their lot in with the north Midlands area.

And with some politicians in the west favouring a Leeds City Region mayor, covering an area which takes in West Yorkshire, Barnsley, and parts of the north, including York, Selby, Harrogate and Craven, fears grew in the east about being frozen out.

These concerns are even greater in the north.

The area covered by North Yorkshire County Council includes parts within the Leeds City Region, and parts without. Quite what powers the authority would have left if a Leeds City Region mayor is approved, is open to question.

Among those in West Yorkshire favouring a Leeds City Region mayor is Bradford Council leader David Green. He said North and East Yorkshire could look to join forces themselves if they want devolved powers.

“I can understand the concern of some local authorities, but think they should have devolved powers as well. The linkages between the economy of the whole county are not strong enough (for a Yorkshire wide mayor). There are areas that have strong identifiable economies but they do not link into other areas.”

This view is not shared across North Yorkshire, where county council leader Carl Les is leading calls for a Greater Yorkshire mayor, to cover West, East and North Yorkshire.

The issue could see great pressure on some council leaders within the Leeds City Region, especially York, which could end up moving away from its close neighbours in North Yorkshire.

Chris Steward, Tory leader of York Council, is keen to explore all options.

“We are looking after York and York’s interests. We have economic links with Leeds, and Selby and Harrogate are very close. Parts of the Leeds City Region, Wakefield, Bradford, and Calderdale are more removed but the area is one.

“But we have very strong links with places like Ryedale and East Yorkshire. North Yorkshire doesn’t want to be split up and Yorkshire’s sphere of influence could be divided and cut in half.

“There are advantages and disadvantages both ways. We can’t rush in just to get something set up.”

The politicians have a month or so to come up with a plan. Whatever they choose is likely to upset some.

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