Chancellor urged to end gridlock

Chancellor George Osborne
Chancellor George Osborne
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George Osborne has been urged to intervene to help end the deadlock over a £1.6 billion fund which would tackle some of the region’s biggest transport problems.

Leading Yorkshire Conservatives have asked the Chancellor to bring his political weight to bear on the lack of progress on the fund, in a letter seen by The Yorkshire Post.

The creation of the fund by West Yorkshire councils and York was first agreed with the Government two years ago but hit problems when rules on how local authorities can raise money were changed.

Discussions have so far failed to produce an agreement on how the fund will be paid for although a further meeting is expected to take place with Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander shortly.

Robert Light and Andrew Carter, the leaders of the Conservatives groups on Kirklees and Leeds councils respectively, have written to the Chancellor asking him to intervene.

The letter says that there has been “much slower progress than any of us would have wished to see” since the deal was first signed in 2012.

“We would welcome your personal support in endorsing our plans to create faster growth in the City Region and additionally for the UK economy.”

The letter is also signed by Roger Marsh, chairman of the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership which brings business and councils together to grow the area’s economy.

Couns Light and Carter are both members of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority which will oversee the transport fund.

Authority chairman Peter Box said: “While there was some frustration expressed at the previous meeting of the Combined Authority, discussions with Ministers are due to resume.

“My colleagues on the Combined Authority have written to the Chancellor to remind him that the Transport Fund would deliver 20,000 new jobs and £2.4bn of additional output in West Yorkshire and the City Region by the mid-2030s.

“In their letter they also point out the positive progress that had previously been made during the establishment of the Combined Authority.

“We are now hopeful that a positive outcome will soon be reached.”

While the letter was written before Mr Osborne’s speech this week talking about the need to give the North serious powers and money to help narrow the economic gap with the south, there will be hope the Chancellor’s enthusiasm for devolution from London could finally end the deadlock.

In an unexpected intervention on Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg appeared to side with West Yorkshire and York as he praised the Chancellor’s “new found commitment” to rebalancing the economy and called on him to “match his words with action by backing the Leeds City Region growth deal and its proposals for better transport links to other cities across the North.”

New roads in Leeds and Wakefield, improvements to the York ring road and improved parking at railway stations across the area are among the schemes which could be backed by the fund.

A wider programme designed to tackle fundamental weaknesses in the area’s economy has also been submitted to the Government.

It is estimated the plan could take £675m off the Government’s benefits bill and make West Yorkshire and York a net contributor to the public finances.