The president of Bradford Chamber of Commerce has accused West Yorkshire politicians of “political self-interest” in failing to deliver a devolution deal for the region.
Andy Caton used his final speech as chamber president to express his “enduring disappointment” that a small number of partisan elected officials were blocking a devolution settlement for the Leeds City Region.
So far Manchester, Sheffield and the North East have all reached settlements which could see them handed control over the millions of pounds of devolved spending, but a deal for the rest of Yorkshire has yet to be reached.
In a well-received address to 300 delegates at the city’s Cedar Court Hotel, Mr Caton also called for businesses in Bradford not to operate in “splendid isolation” and to collaborate more with the wider region.
Mr Caton told the audience: “It is right to say one of the wider problems is that in Manchester, in Liverpool, in the Tees Valley – there will be mayors elected soon into 2017.
“With this there will be more powers and resources to achieve their goals. We are not in that position. It is an enduring disappointment that political self-interest from a small number has made it impossible as yet to move forward and secure the Leeds City Region deal.
“I hope that in Sajid Javid MP as the new Secretary of State, and the new Prime Minister, will work with political leaders here in Bradford and across the city region to make progress towards a significant deal.”
Mr Caton, Yorkshire Building Society’s corporate affairs and treasury officer, also said the debate about how the post-Brexit economy was managed should not be dominated by City of London.
“In my own industry, the conversation has been dominated by one square mile in London – despite the fact for every job there, we have two more across the regions in financial and professional services.
“So whatever you might have thought of the campaign, and however you voted, what we need now is a deal which helps the North and is not overly swayed by Scottish interests, or political dogma over economic necessity.
“The chamber nationally, and here in Bradford, will be speaking up loud and clear for businesses’ interests in that process.
“The business voice is always heard in this city, and working together more and more closely with our neighbours we will make sure it is heard in London, and around the world, a lot louder than it could ever have been in splendid isolation.
“It is time to dream for Bradford, and for us in this room and our businesses to give the people of the city the faith in their future to dream with us about what we can make it be. A better Bradford, a Bradford which collaborates with and doesn’t compete for its own sake with its neighbours.”
Mr Caton also hailed the HS3 project but said that it was crucial that Bradford have a city centre station on the route to improve its connectivity to the remainder of the North.
Bradford Chamber undertook an historic merger with its counterparts in Leeds and York in 2014, creating a wide-ranging powerbase of the region’s business community.
Mr Caton said that the move had “given businesses a stronger voice in each area across the region” and improved relations with Manchester.
He praised his counterpart in Leeds, Gerald Jennings, for his support of the HS3 station in Bradford and for Leeds’s support of its highly-praised Great Exhibition of the North bid, saying, “it is not a zero sum game, often Leeds and Bradford can both win, we just need to make that the norm in years to come”. Mr Caton backed Leeds’s European Capital of Culture bid for 2023.