THE Government’s Northern Powerhouse project is a step closer to being backed by West Yorkshire leaders as ministers are told to make the region a “game-changing offer”.
The Conservatives used the Queen’s Speech yesterday and the new legislative programme to make clear there will be new powers for cities in exchange for councils introducing directly elected mayors.
West Yorkshire resisted the moves as inappropriate in the last Parliament, partly as a result of encouragement by the then shadow Chancellor Ed Balls.
That opposition though came at the cost of watching as the Greater Manchester authorities pushed ahead, becoming the flagship devolution city as leaders accepted the need for a change.
Yesterday the Queen’s Speech made clear there would be metro mayor-only devolution to English cities.
Announcing the move, the Queen said in a speech written for her by the Government: “To bring different parts of the country together, my government will work to bring about a balanced economic recovery.
“Legislation will be introduced to provide for the devolution of powers to cities with elected metro mayors, helping to build a Northern Powerhouse.”
The Cities and Local Government Bill will hand over powers on regeneration, economic development, planning and possibly policing to those making a deal with Whitehall.
The Government is also introducing a Buses Bill, which will allow metro mayor areas such as Manchester to be responsible for running their local bus services.
Peter Box, head of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, has said the council group has already restarted talks with the Government on the next round of devolution deals.
Mr Box said: “We have already achieved a first-stage devolution agreement and we now have the opportunity to build upon that position and take a central role in delivering the Northern Powerhouse.
“And to do this we need to build upon our successes to date which include gaining the country’s largest Growth Deal from the government, and uniquely, £420m to establish a £1bn fund for the kinds of infrastructure projects that will underpin economic growth.
“Conversations about how we take devolution forward with have already begun with Mr Osborne and the new Secretary of State for Communities and Local Environment Greg Clarke, with whom we already have a positive working relationship.
“We are keen to renew negotiations with government on the available powers, freedoms and funding through the devolution process. Our expectation is that these should be game-changing in terms of meeting our long-term ambition of making this region a net contributor to the UK economy and it is on that basis that we have started the debate about mayoral governance.”
Businesses have welcomed the move away from centralisation.
CBI deputy director-general Katja Hall said: “Giving city regions greater control of budgets where they are proving their value is the right approach. With strong and collaborative leadership, the devolution of key powers could accelerate growth across the country. Where there is an economic case for further devolution, business will support it.
“Building a northern powerhouse should spur investment in our vibrant cities from Liverpool to Leeds to Newcastle, to create an economic power in the north to rival clusters around the world.”
David Sparks, Local Government Association chairman, said: “The Cities Devolution Bill is great news for our larger cities but we want to make sure the benefits of devolution reach all corners of England.
“Making decisions at a more local level will bring about huge economic and social benefits and with non-metropolitan England responsible for 56% of economic output the case for wider devolution is clear.
“Like the Communities Secretary we believe the push to decentralise power should be extended to these non-urban areas.”