Budget: Clegg under fire over Yorkshire devolution

Leeds City Council leader Keith Wakefield
Leeds City Council leader Keith Wakefield
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NICK CLEGG came under fire after the Budget included fresh powers for Manchester to control its own affairs just as the ink dried on a limited devolution deal for West Yorkshire today.

Manchester had previously been given a comprehensive package of powers in return for agreeing to have a new elected Boris Johnson-style mayor and today George Osborne went further, allowing the city to retain and spend business rates worth millions of pounds.

The deal announced for West Yorkshire saw local powers extended in areas including skills, business support and control of Government-held assets.

Last year, during a visit to Leeds, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg insisted adopting elected mayors, an idea resisted in Yorkshire, would not be a condition of devolution of significant powers and money.

Leeds City Council leader Keith Wakefield said: “This does not match our ambitions for the people of Leeds and the city region.

“We were promised by the Deputy Prime Minister that there would be no strings attached in relation to governance models so we are disappointed by the lack of devolution on transport and housing investment powers.”

The West Yorkshire devolution deal was described as an “incremental step” by the IPPR North thinktank which said the agreement “appears to have faltered on Treasury’s unswerving commitment to directly elected mayors”.

Roger Marsh, chairman of the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership which brings business and councils together to grow the area’s economy, said: “Would we have liked more? Yes. Is this the end of the process? Absolutely not.

“Our region’s scale and business strengths are making a real difference to UK global competitiveness, so come May 8 we will be banging on government’s door to secure all of the pounds and powers we need to deliver our ambitious agenda for growth and ensure the Northern Powerhouse becomes an economic reality with our region at its centre.”

“Nevertheless as a result of this devolution agreement, the 2012 City Deal and our Growth Deals – the largest of any LEP in the country – we now have control of devolved funding approaching £2 billion. That’s not a bad start, but the job’s not yet done.”

The more limited scope of Yorkshire’s devolution package, which has been under negotiation since before Christmas, was blamed by one senior Conservative on the approach to the discussions taken by Labour council leaders.

Coun Andrew Carter, leader of the Conservative group on Leeds City Council, said: “It shouldn’t have reached this stage. They know that there is a real commitment to the North of England and devolving power by the Government.

“I could only draw the conclusion that the squabbling in the Labour Party has caused the delays.”

He added: “I make no bones about it, I want to see a Leeds City Region mayor and elected assembly, to give proper public scrutiny and accountability to what will then be a Manchester style package of devolution, which has to be a good thing, and help the North of England becomes, as the Chancellor has said, a northern powerhouse.”

A devolution deal was agreed with South Yorkshire last year, without the inclusion of a mayor, which was also more limited in scope than the Manchester agreement.