Call for commission to deliver Yorkshire devolution

The Leeds skyline.
The Leeds skyline.
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AN INDEPENDENT commission similar to the one that came up with proposals for Scottish devolution should be created to oversee shifting powers from Whitehall to English cities, a new report recommends.

The RSA thinktank described devolution agreements reached in recent months with Manchester and West and South Yorkshire as a mixture of “ad hoc deals and closed door arrangements” and said the process needed to be “clear and transparent” in the future.

It is calling for the next Government to put in place a ‘City Devolution Commission’ which could hold Ministers to account for progress and assess bids from groups of councils wanting to take on more responsibilities.

Manchester has so far secured the most comprehensive set of powers from the Government and is widely seen as being rewarded for agreeing to adopt an elected mayor for the city.

South and West Yorkshire, which have expressed reservations about moving to mayoral systems, were offered more limited freedoms and are both expected to push for fresh negotiations with whoever is in Government after May 7.

Leeds City Council leader Keith Wakefield said: “We need an extra push to get devolution up and running as soon as the General Election is over.

“All parties are committed to it and if it helps to bring speed, legitimacy and a successful outcome it may be worth having a commission.

“I am very confident that given our record and our achievements and given our ambition I am confident we will be able to demonstrate we are ready for devolution now.”

The RSA has likened its proposal to the Smith Commission set up following the Scottish independence referendum which carried out cross-party discussions to come up with proposals for areas where Holyrood should take more control.

Charlotte Alldritt, director of public services and communities at the RSA, said: “While Greater Manchester’s devolution deal is a game-changing step towards integrated economic and social policy, major questions still remain.

“Are all places entitled to receive the same powers? How will these be determined and enabled? And what are the implications for central government, MPs and Parliament?

“The creation of an Independent City Devolution Commission would help give both city regions and Whitehall a clear and transparent framework to worth with, so they’re no longer kept in the dark about the path ahead.”

The latest RSA report also sets out a timetable for devolution it recommends the next Government should follow.

This includes a city devolution Bill to feature in the Queen’s Speech in the weeks after the election.

It also suggests that comprehensive devolution deals should be in place with the UK’s major urban areas by the end of the decade.

The report describes devolution as “one of the few points of cross-party consensus and this presents a genuine opportunity to empower our city-regions, drive growth, create jobs and achieve better public service outcomes for citizens.”

The RSA last year sponsored the City Growth Commission, led by respected economist Jim O’Neill, which produced a report which has proved highly influential with the major parties’ thinking on devolution.

The report, Unleashing Metro Growth, suggested that devolution could have a huge positive impact on the economy.