Cities bid to widen devolved powers

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SWEEPING new devolved powers over transport, job creation and infrastructure projects designed to boost the economies of Yorkshire’s two largest cities will be extended to cover great swathes of the region, it has emerged.

Leeds and Sheffield City Councils have revealed their forthcoming bids to Whitehall for devolved powers under Nick Clegg’s much-trumpeted “city deals” agenda are to be widened to incorporate their respective city region areas.

This means the powers would also encompass Bradford, Wakefield, Kirklees, Calderdale, York and parts of North Yorkshire in Leeds’s case; and Doncaster, Rotherham, Barnsley and parts of the East Midlands in Sheffield’s.

The move represents a significant departure from the Deputy Prime Minister’s original policy proposal last month, which envisaged devolving powers simply to eight “core cities” as the key drivers of economic growth.

Leeds and Sheffield were the only two cities in Yorkshire to be included, sparking concern that other areas could be left behind.

But the chief executives at Yorkshire’s two largest cities have now made it clear their bids will stretch far beyond their own local authority boundaries, to drive growth across the wider economic area.

“Leeds could have gone down the road of just taking on these powers itself, and it’s been an active choice that (council leader) Keith Wakefield has made to say any powers we get in Leeds, we want for the city region, not just for the city,” said Tom Riordan, chief executive of Leeds City Council. “I think that’s very significant.”

“What we want is very clear and distinct cities, and governance of those cities, through our political leadership – we will bat for Leeds in Leeds, Bradford will do the same in Bradford, and so will Wakefield and so will Kirklees.

“However, on certain issues it makes absolute sense for us to work together – and transport and skills are the most obvious ones.

Boundaries on the lines of maps don’t matter to commuters and people in the labour market.”

“It’s a far-sighted thing for the political leaders to do because it gives us the potential to get a much bigger bang for our buck.”

The Government has said it wants each “city deal” agreed as quickly as possible, with the individual agreements to be tailored dependant on local needs.

Yesterday the Yorkshire Post revealed that one of the key demands from the Leeds city region will be control over a 10-year funding pot for transport schemes, allowing council leaders to prioritise the most important schemes and borrow money for further long-term investment.

York Council leader James Alexander said cities such as Leeds and York are “co-dependent” and that improving transport links would therefore be a high priority for the entire city region area.

And Bradford Council leader Ian Greenwood said it was “right” for neighbouring authorities to work together in this way, as different cities should not have different powers made available to them.

“We have always looked to work with colleagues across the region, so that we can move forward together,” he said. Sheffield City Council said it will be taking a similar approach when it agrees its own ‘city deal’ with Whitehall over the coming months, incorporating the rest of the city region into the proposal.

Chief executive John Mothersole said: “Obviously some individual measures, such as driving airport-related business, will be geography-specific.

“But the whole approach here is that the city region economy improves together.

“We have got Leeds city region and Sheffield city region in effect marching forward together, but doing different deals to get there in different ways.”

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