Lord Heseltine in Yorkshire devolution talks

Michael Heseltine
Michael Heseltine
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FORMER Deputy Prime Minister Lord Heseltine has taken part in efforts to broker a deal over a major devolution of Government powers and money to the region, The Yorkshire Post has learned.

Lord Heseltine’s involvement came last week as part of intense negotiations over giving West Yorkshire and York greater control over their own affairs.

Parallel discussions over devolution have also been taking place between South Yorkshire and the Government ahead of Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement on Wednesday.

The control of millions of pounds of Government spending in areas such as skills, transport and housing, as well as key planning powers are thought to be among the items under discussion.

Lord Heseltine has earned cross-party respect for his work on the economic regeneration of the North and his calls for more decisions to be taken at a local level.

But he is also a supporter of those decisions being taken by Boris Johnson-style elected mayors, an idea that has been resisted in Yorkshire.

It is understood that in South Yorkshire’s case, negotiators have not completely ruled out the elected mayor option although any deal currently on the table would not bind the area into taking that option.

Any suggestion that Yorkshire is being forced to have elected mayors as the price for devolution would be hugely damaging for Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, a Sheffield MP, who has promised council leaders publicly that would not be the case.

The Chancellor is a supporter of elected mayors and a devolution deal struck with Manchester last month included a new mayor for the city.

Sources in both West and South Yorkshire have suggested that it is unlikely Mr Osborne will be able to announce completed devolution deals on Wednesday although he is expected to confirm progress is being made.

Leeds City Council leader Keith Wakefield said: “We have set out for ministers how we will, through greater local decision making and funding, grow the Leeds City Region’s economy, already the largest outside London, to its full potential and make it an overall contributor to the UK country’s wealth. “

More than 100 council leaders yesterday wrote to the Chancellor saying it was “England’s turn” for devolution after last week’s deal on new powers for the Scottish Parliament. The Local Government Association letter was signed by a number of Yorkshire council leaders, including the Conservative leader of Calderdale Council, Stephen Baines.

It said: “There is compelling evidence that taking decisions closer to the people affected achieves better results and saves money. It is vital that the autumn statement sets out a new settlement for England, which puts powers beyond Westminster, and shares out tax and spending across the UK on a fair basis.

“The people we represent, who look north of the border with envy at the greater control Scots are to get over their everyday lives, will expect nothing less.”

Mr Osborne has promised Wednesday’s Autumn Statement will include measures to turn the North into an economic “powerhouse” that can compete on the world stage.