Region’s cities speak in ‘unified voice’ after devolution summit

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COUNCIL LEADERS have heralded a landmark summit to end the stand-off over Yorkshire’s long-awaited devolution deal with a pledge to provide a “unified voice” and bring an unprecedented level of autonomous decision-making to the region.

Senior figures from councils throughout Yorkshire met in York yesterday to discuss the idea of a single devolution agreement covering the whole of the region and the likely election of a Yorkshire mayor.

Ahead of the summit, The Yorkshire Post yesterday reported that the discussions were aimed at bringing renewed hope that an ambitious deal could pave the way for the transfer of wide-ranging powers from Westminster to the region.

Coun Judith Blake, the leader of Leeds Council, who chaired yesterday’s meeting, said: “We all recognise what an important meeting this has been for all local authorities in Yorkshire. It was a positive meeting and we want to provide a unified voice not just speaking on behalf of Leeds, but all local authorities in the region.”

She stressed that a full statement would be released “in the next few days” from the council leaders who were involved in the meeting.

Council leaders from across the county attended the meeting, which was held behind closed doors.

Leaders were expected to be asked to agree to discuss the 
options available and to go on 
to consult with various councillors, MPs, businesses and partners over the course of the summer.

“We have had a very positive meeting,” Coun Carl Les, Conservative leader of North Yorkshire County Council said afterwards.

“A statement by all leaders will be issued in due course.”

This message was echoed by Coun David Carr, leader of York Council, who said further 
details could not be disclosed at this point.

“We’ve all agreed to put out an agreed statement at some point next week,” he added.

The geography of the region has contributed to delays in an agreement for Yorkshire, the chief executive of Leeds City Council Tom Riordan has previously said, but the appetite for a deal is still there.

Documents sent to the leaders ahead of yesterday’s meeting claimed that striking an “ambitious” regional deal could double Yorkshire’s economic output over 30 years.

It would provide England’s biggest county with “greater control” and provide a way to answer the region’s key challenges.

It had set out two possible models – either a system led by a newly elected mayor, or a structure with a cabinet of council leaders at the top.

Stressing the history of the region’s urban and rural areas uniting, it also suggested plans for significant powers could be retained at sub-regional level.

Not all authorities in Yorkshire are understood to have welcomed the proposals – primarily in Rotherham and Sheffield where the preference has long been to reconcile the Sheffield City Agreement. This deal, which included £30m a year in extra funding and the creation of an elected mayor for the area, was agreed by South Yorkshire councils and then-Chancellor George Osborne in 2015, but has stalled in recent months.

Wakefield Council leader Peter Box has also previously suggested his authority’s preference remained to pursue a Leeds City Region deal while holding out the option of developing a wider Yorkshire agreement in the future.