A VISION of Yorkshire run by Boris Johnson-style elected mayors has been laid out by David Cameron as the Government unveiled plans to turn the North into a global economic force.
It is just two years since voters in Bradford, Leeds, Sheffield and Wakefield voted “no” when given the chance to have their cities run by elected mayors.
But the Prime Minister insisted the offer on the table this time would involve “more money on the table, more powers on the table” which could give them the authority and influence enjoyed by Mr Johnson in London.
And he raised the prospect of a single mayor running an area wider than a city, a move which could, for example, see Leeds and Sheffield city region mayors with powers over swathes of West and South Yorkshire.
The Prime Minister told The Yorkshire Post: “Obviously we wouldn’t be putting the same question all over again. What this is about is saying ‘look there’s a real opportunity to build a Northern powerhouse by linking up our greatest cities in the north of England’.
“So we are talking about better transport links, talking about science and universities but also, yes, talking about governance because the evidence the world over is that where you give cities the chance to have the money, the powers and the leadership they can be economically transformational.
“So what we are talking about here is a conversation that says, ‘look if you’re interested what sort of additional resources, additional powers, would make it interesting for you to look at a mayoral model which might be a city mayoral model or it could be a so-called metro mayor where you’ve got a mayor covering a wider area including some of the surrounding authorities and towns.’”
Mr Cameron was speaking during a visit to the Coca-Cola plant in Wakefield as the company announced a £13m investment in a new production line.
He was accompanied by Chancellor George Osborne who had earlier delivered a speech on the Government’s plan to strengthen the economy of the North by improving links between its major cities, including a transpennine high-speed rail line, and devolving power.
But Yorkshire city leaders gave a cool reception to the idea of “metro mayors”.
Bradford Council leader David Green said: “Bradford comprehensively rejected the idea of an elected mayor for the district two years ago and if they were rejecting a local mayor I struggle to understand why the Government believe they would vote for a West Yorkshire mayor or something similar.”
There was also criticism that the Government had been slow to come round to the argument that giving the North freedoms to take key decisions was the only way to ensure the UK economy becomes less dependent on the South East.
Leeds City Council leader Keith Wakefield said: “I’m delighted George Osborne finally appears to be listening to the leaders of Northern cities and accepting the role our cities have to play in the national economy. What the coalition must now do is show that this is more than pre-General Election rhetoric and back up today’s promises with clear time-scales and funding commitments.
“George Osborne is right that cities like ours have the potential to take on the world and that we will be key to ensuring a truly sustainable rebalancing of the national economy – but we will only fulfil that potential when the coalition Government allows us the freedom to take control of our own futures.”
The ambition to strengthen transport links in the North was broadly welcomed by the region’s business community.
Chris Hearld, office senior Partner at KPMG in Leeds, said: “The distance between Manchester and Leeds is no longer than the Central Line in London – there is no reason why our Northern cities should not operate as one economic powerhouse provided they are properly connected up.”
CBI deputy director-general Katja Hall said better east-west links in the North could boost business and “help further balance the UK economy by creating a Northern hub”.