A campaign to dirupt long-awaited devolution plans is being mounted by senior Labour figures intent on scuppering council efforts to grab power from Whitehall, a minister has claimed.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has urged West Yorkshire leaders to force Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls to back off, saying they would secure a better devolution deal if they focused on getting him to “pipe down”.
As Labour launched its local government campaign in Leeds yesterday, Mr Pickles told The Yorkshire Post that the region faced the same problems as councils in Manchester, only there city leaders united to stand up to opposition by Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham.
Already in West Yorkshire Mr Balls has told Labour local authority chiefs that they do not need to work with the Government on devolution if the result would be a new directly elected mayor for the city region.
Mr Pickles said there was a clear plan by Labour leaders to hinder the Conservative attempt to pass on job creation powers.
He said: “I’m afraid Ed Balls is delaying this, and we faced a very similar situation with Andy Burnham. The leaders of the various metropolitan authorities had to get together and tell him to piper down. I think that in Yorkshire the leaders really do need to tell Ed Balls to pipe down. He is seeing this through the very narrow confines of just the General Election.
“This is more than about that, it is about a fundamental transfer of power. The thing about devolution is there is no cut off point. The Manchester deal started slowly but gained confidence. West Yorkshire will eventually show it can work together.”
Mr Pickles was speaking in Garforth as Labour set out the policies it hopes will secure votes in council elections also taking place on May 7 at a campaign launch at The Tetley, in Leeds.
Labour is promising to increase the amount the Government gives to regions to spend on growing the local economy to £30bn and has pledged areas will not be forced to adopt elected mayors in return for devolved powers. Manchester, which has agreed to have an elected mayor, enjoyed the most comprehensive devolution deal from the coalition Government compared to less wide-ranging agreements with West and South Yorkshire which have been reluctant on mayors.
Shadow Local Government Secretary Hilary Benn said: “There is a tide flowing in this country in favour of devolution. Councils and the communities they represent, very simply, want to have more say over the decisions that affect the places in which they live and the way the economy is going to grow and develop. A Labour government will pass power back to communities across England, reversing 100 years of centralisation.”
He added: “This is a devolution offer for the whole of England, not just for some places, not just ‘well I’ll give you a bit of this and a bit of that and I’ll devolve you some powers as long as you do what we tell you to do’ which is the approach the Government has taken.”
Labour is promising all areas the power to hold onto growth in business rates to spend locally as well as a bigger say on adult skills spending.
A Labour government would give local areas the role of commissioning the work programme which helps the long term unemployed into jobs.
Funding for business support would also be devolved.
Voters across Yorkshire will have the opportunity to cast their ballot in local elections on May 7 as well as the General Election.
Meanwhile, Nicola Sturgeon has pledged that the SNP would help make Labour’s Ed Miliband prime minister if the Conservatives fail to win a majority in next month’s general election.
The Scottish First Minister made the offer as she clashed with Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy in the first televised Scottish leaders debate.
Ms Sturgeon said last night: “I’ve said to Ed Miliband and I’ll say to (Scottish Labour leader) Jim Murphy this evening, that if there is an anti-Tory majority in the House of Commons after the election, even if the Tories are the biggest party we will work with Labour to keep David Cameron out of Downing Street.”