TALKS are underway which could see West and North Yorkshire join forces to grow the region’s economy and rebalance the so-called Northern Powerhouse.
West Yorkshire’s five councils and York joined forces to create a combined authority last year to lead efforts on economic growth and now talks are being held over ways to broaden the partnership to include North Yorkshire.
It is hoped presenting a joined- up vision for the whole of West and North Yorkshire would strengthen the hand of those seeking to secure devolution of key decision-making powers and money from Whitehall to the region.
There is also concern among some figures in North Yorkshire that the Government’s current vision for rebalancing the economy, the creation of the Northern Powerhouse by improving links between the North’s urban areas is focused on cities and risks rural districts being left behind.
The Conservative manifesto promised to “devolve far-reaching powers over economic development, transport and social care to large cities which choose to have elected mayors”.
Greater Manchester struck a devolution deal last year and Chancellor George Osborne’s enthusiastic backing of the city has raised concerns in some quarters in West Yorkshire that the Northern Powerhouse project could see Yorkshire swap a North-South divide for an East-West split.
Closer ties with North Yorkshire would help neutralise the criticism often voiced in Whitehall that Greater Manchester is better at speaking with “one voice” compared to Yorkshire.
One of the potential obstacles to greater partnership is political, with the North dominated by the Conservatives and West Yorkshire still largely Labour-run.
But sources in West Yorkshire argue that its combined authority already has a good track record in cross-party working.
Last night Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones welcomed the move.
He said: “Economic borders don’t respect local government borders – it is important we work together. The Northern Powerhouse is a very strong idea and it will benefit every part of the North.”
But new Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake, who is due to meet Mr Osborne this week for talks over the issue, said he wanted to keep open the option of a combined authority involving York, North and East Yorkshire, potentially linking with Hull, although he accepted the most important goal was to ensure investment for the North in general.
He said: “I am a little bit concerned that the talk over the Northern Powerhouse is about Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield, and I worry if York and North Yorkshire join with West Yorkshire in a combined authority we may just get crumbs from the table and we need something that really focuses on the unique challenges of North Yorkshire.
“The economies of North Yorkshire and East Yorkshire are much more closely linked and we need to keep all options on the table.”
Comment: Page 10.