LEEDs will remain in the second tier when it comes to devolution unless it copies Manchester’s metro mayor model, Lord Heseltine has warned.
The former deputy prime minister has spoken of the risk facing Leeds in falling behind as West Yorkshire council chiefs continue to rule out a Manchester-style scheme in which they work together under a new elected leader.
While Manchester has already been handed a multi-billion pound devolution package, the Chancellor is expected to announce a much less impressive deal for Yorkshire in his budget today.
A fairer approach to northern devolution is a key feature of this newspaper’s Yorkshire Manifesto, in which the political parties are urged to offer a hand over of powers in a way which suits individual city regions.
Lord Heseltine, who published a detailed report on the need for radical devolution at the request of the coalition Government, said that while Leeds and other cities were free to avoid the metro mayor model, there would be a cost.
He told The Yorkshire Post: “A metro mayor was one of the central commitments from Manchester. There are clearly no deals on the scale that Manchester achieved without a metro mayor and I think that a central feature of the devolution that is desirable includes the identification around a single leader, who is directly elected.
“Every other advanced economy of which I have knowledge operates on that model. It is the decision that Manchester has made, and no one will tell you Manchester suffered as a consequence.”
Lord Heseltine added: “Manchester is ahead of the game, there is no question about that, and they are ahead of the game because they have addressed the fundamental management challenges of how you create a credible and accountable framework to bear the additional responsibilities.
“The debate is to what extent other great cities such as Leeds are going to resolve the very understandable local tensions in reaching the same degree of coordination that Manchester has done.
“The debate is open and my very strong hope is that once the election is out of the way the process will lead to more satisfactory negotiations.”
Lord Heseltine, who has chaired the Government’s £2.8bn regional growth fund, said Yorkshire had the opportunity to seek greater devolution.
He said: “The local people have the future in their hands, as do the chairmen of the local enterprise partnerships, the leaders of local councils.
“They have to persuade the Government that they are as well organised as Manchester has shown itself to be.
“Then the same opportunities are there for them.”
Lord Heseltine defended the Government’s overall record on taking power out of Whitehall.
“They have made more progress than any Government of modern time,” he said.
“And I think it is impossible now to prevent this continuing, it is unstoppable as all the parties are committed to it.
“One new factor that helped this is the debate about Scotland, which has created in the minds of English MPs a determination that there will be a much more urgent agenda of devolution within England itself.”
One disappointing aspect of the Government’s support for devolution has been a reluctance to hand over fund rasing powers, a key call in the Yorkshire Manifesto.
Lord Heseltine said that some steps had been taken towards freeing up resources, but warned financial devolution was not without risk.
“The more you devolve the financial responsibility the starker the problem becomes between the rich areas and the less prosperous ones, so you need to address that with equalisation.”