Budget: Osborne pressed to hand sweeping powers to Yorkshire

London-style franchised buses are among the requests included in a new devolution plan for the Leeds city region
London-style franchised buses are among the requests included in a new devolution plan for the Leeds city region
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POWERS to raise money to transform the transport network are part of an ambitious devolution plan for the Leeds city region being submitted to Ministers, The Yorkshire Post can reveal.

Sweeping authority over buses, rail and roads, greater local control over how taxes are raised and spent and the shifting of decision-making in areas such as skills, flood defences and housing from Whitehall to Yorkshire are also included in a 27-point list.

The proposal further includes a demand for significant freedoms to offer business incentives to locate in the area and to get major developments underway.

The document represents a significant test of Chancellor George Osborne’s willingness to back up his post-election promise of “radical devolution” to the North with action.

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Council leaders have made clear they want substantial changes in return for agreeing to his demand that areas adopt elected mayors.

Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake said: “Let there be no mistake, Leeds is an incredibly ambitious city that deserves more local control over its own affairs.

“As a city we already have one of the strongest economies in the country, but we are being held back by decisions taken in Whitehall that should be taken locally.

“We saw that in action only last month with the debacle over the electrification of the Transpennine rail link.”

Coun Blake added: “Whilst it’s clear that the Government are trying to force areas to accept an elected mayor, there has to be a much better understanding of what devolved powers are on offer before a change in governance can be considered.”

Poor transport links are widely seen as a major barrier to growing the local economy and that is reflected in the devolution proposal.

It calls for the right to charge a levy on business rates to pay for infrastructure in a similar way to how money was raised in London to support the Crossrail project.

Residents could also be asked to pay a precept on their council tax bills to help pay for transport investment.

The plan would see bus services moved to a franchise system, similar to London, and local control over railway stations and major roads, including sections of motorway.

The city region is calling for all business rates raised in the area to be retained locally rather than being handed to the Treasury and to have the right to make decisions on how European funding is spent.

Helping attract businesses to the area and removing obstacles to major development schemes is also a major theme.

There are proposals to create enterprise zones offering business incentives in areas such as the Leeds South Bank and the York Central site with others suggested across the area.

The plan would see the creation of a £500 million housing and investment fund and efforts to encourage developers to start schemes rather than sit on banks of land.

It looks to improve skills in the area with a call for local control of further education budgets, careers advice and support for apprenticeships.

The city region would take over the running of key programmes, such as those to get the unemployed into work and help troubled families.