CONTROL over tens of millions of pounds of Government funding is set to move from Whitehall to the Humber after Ministers agreed the area should be a testbed for devolution.
The move could mean decisions on how to spend up to £150m a year in areas such as housing, skills and infrastructure will be taken locally rather than by Government departments.
The announcement coincided with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg offering renewed backing for a “systematic” hand-out of powers to local councils across England, amid concerns that regions such as Yorkshire are being left behind by Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish devolution.
During a visit to Hull yesterday, Cities Minister Greg Clark confirmed the Humber will be a pathfinder for the devolution advocated by Conservative peer Lord Heseltine in a report last year which argued putting money and powers in local control could unlock growth in the regions.
The Humber Local Enterprise Partnership is already finalising a separate bid for a ‘city deal’ agreement focused on the powers it wants to capitalise on the development of the green economy on the Humber but becoming a Heseltine pathfinder will be far broader in scope.
Humber LEP chairman Lord Haskins said details of the responsibilities it will take on had still to be decided but was likely to involve spending of between £60m and £150m a year.
“This is very good news for the area and we are now going to be under the microscope in terms of how this develops,” he added. “I think it is going to be a test to see if devolution at last is going to mean something and we will be at the forefront of it.
“Obviously it has to have some democratic accountability. Elsewhere they have developed the idea of a ‘city region’ and I would guess something like that will have to emerge here as it goes along.”
Over the coming weeks Lord Heseltine is expected to work closely with the Humber LEP which is one of only two local enterprise partnerships in the country to get the chance to put his ideas into practice.
The move also raises the prospect of local authorities in the area having to work closer together than at any point since the abolition of Humberside County Council in 1996.
As part of its Give us a Fair Deal campaign, the Yorkshire Post is calling for the swift implementation of the key elements of the report published by Lord Heseltine last year which advocated the devolution of billions of pounds in spending to regional control.
A major report by a backbench committee of MPs due at the end of this month is expected to highlight the growing disparity between the array of powers now enjoyed by the devolved nations, and the massive centralisation of power in England at Westminster.
Speaking in the Commons, the chairman of the Constitutional Reform committee, Graham Allen, told Mr Clegg that “three out of the four nations of the United Kingdom now enjoy some form of devolution”.
“The one that does not is England,” he said.
Mr Allen called on the Deputy Prime Minister to “engage with local government at the right moment to discuss how devolution can be made effective”.
In response, Mr Clegg said he stood “shoulder to shoulder” with Mr Allen on the issue, and highlighted the raft of policies the Coalition has already introduced as part of its drive to hand powers back to local communities, including the ‘City Deal’ devolution packages signed off with England’s largest cities.
Mr Clegg said: “The City Deals, in my view, are a radical template of a wholesale transfer of responsibilities, ranging from transport and capital investment to skills and training, to local authorities.
“The question the committee is posing is whether that can be done in a more systematic, neat and formalised way. I am certainly open to look at any suggestions in that respect.”
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