Northern cities must prove they are ready to wield greater powers, says economist O’Neill

Jim O'Neill
Jim O'Neill
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YORKSHIRE CITIES must prove they are ready to wield greater powers, a leading economist has said.

Jim O’Neill, the former chief economist at Goldman Sachs and the chairman of the City Growth Commission, said the movement to devolve more powers to English cities is gaining momentum with political support at the highest level.

Reacting to the Scottish referendum result yesterday, the Prime Minister spoke of the need to “empower our great cities” and promised to set out proposals “in the coming days”.

Mr O’Neill told The Yorkshire Post: “The key is, it is up to the cities to prove they have the governance arrangements to warrant the responsibilities.”

He said within Yorkshire there are some cities that are more ready than others for devolution and suggested that national policymakers will regard combined authority status as a necessity.

These are new structures set up by two or more local authorities to take on transport and economic development functions with two launched covering West and South Yorkshire earlier this year.

Mr O’Neill said the authorities must be able to demonstrate leadership.

He added that devolution in itself will not be enough to solve all of Britain’s economic problems and has to be part of wider efforts such as bold transport schemes such as One North, the plan recently unveiled by northern cities, to improve transport connections.

The RSA-backed commission led by Mr O’Neill is due to report its recommendations on how cities can complement London’s growth next month.

Senior figures in local government in Yorkshire were united yesterday in calling for the response to the Scottish referendum to include wholesale change in the way power and public money is wielded in England.

West Yorkshire Combined Authority chairman Coun Peter Box said: “What we now need to see is all the main parties, who in the lead up to the Scottish vote have been talking about the need for more devolution and taking an interest in our cities across the north, making good on their proposals.

“That means a fundamental reorganisation of how government deals with the city regions. Not a symbolic tinkering at the edges, so-called commissions or imposed gimmicks that some current Ministers might want to see.”

Leeds City Council leader Keith Wakefield said: “This result reinforces the widespread belief that further devolution must happen, giving local people much more say and control over spending and investment in their areas to promote growth, job creation, stronger communities and prosperity for all.

“For this to happen we need a true commitment to decentralisation and there needs to be a genuine timetable in place, with strong direction as to how this will happen.”

The call was echoed by the private sector.

James Newman, chairman of the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Whilst the Scottish referendum has been a real wake-up call for Government, it shouldn’t mean that Westminster continues to shower the Scottish government with more funding and powers whilst making piecemeal gestures to city regions in England.”