English cities to join devolution chorus

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WESTMINSTER will face a chorus of calls from English cities for greater devolution of powers and funding whatever the outcome of next week’s Scottish referendum, a leading Yorkshire politician has warned.

Peter Box, leader of Wakefield Council, said localised decision making leads to better value for money in public spending and is more responsive to local needs than Whitehall.

Mr Box said first and second tier cities across England are drawing up wishlists for more powers and funding to present to the Government.

He said: “Despite all the globalisation, people are wanting to determine their own future far more than they ever did.

“It’s not just in this country, it’s all across the world. People are saying ‘we want our own identity recognised, we want greater control over our economic future’.”

Mr Box is also chairman of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, a new body responsible for driving economic growth across the Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds and Wakefield districts and the City of York Council area.

Speaking to journalists at a media briefing yesterday, he said the Scottish referendum has created a catalyst for a debate over devolution and “the genie is now out of the bottle”.

Mr Box added: “The Government can’t suddenly say we are not going to devolve any more.

“There will be a huge amount of pressure, whichever way Scotland votes.

“If Scotland votes No, and you get ‘devo max’, the Welsh Assembly will say ‘we now want more devolution’; Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire Combined Authority, Merseyside, we are all going to be saying the same thing.

“All economies aren’t the same, we are different. We have different solutions to the problems we have got.

“This one-size fits all approach that Governments have been following for years is finished.”

He claimed that all the main political parties are now aware that the only way to deal with some of the economic challenges faced by Britain is by devolving power.

Mr Box said: “As local leaders we have to keep the pressure on because once the election has come and gone it will be too easy for those ministers to fall back into old habits.

“We are determined to make sure they don’t do that.”

He acknowledged that the public does not want more politicians as a result.

The Government has already devolved some funding and powers to the regions via the so-called growth deals.

Speaking at the same briefing, Roger Marsh, chairman of the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, said that locally-run schemes have reduced the number of young people not in education, employment and training at a greater rate than national programmes run from the centre.

Mr Marsh said: “If we are in charge of our own destiny we can get better results as a consequence. That’s just a small but important example.

“If you scale that up, you create the conditions where a city region like this, with all its potential in the future, can deliver extraordinary growth to the Exchequer’s advantage.

“But you are not going to do it based on a one-size fits all template ignoring place.”

Mr Box also revived the debate about transport connectivity in the West Yorkshire area.

He said the region’s road, rail and air needs should be reviewed in the light of HS2.