YORKSHIRE’S rural communities are next in line to benefit from the Government’s devolution drive after Nick Clegg announced plans to hand a raft of new powers to councils and businesses in the countryside.
The Deputy Prime Minister said he wants to see versions of his trail-blazing City Deal devolution packages extended to every corner of England by 2015, and called on towns and villages to join forces and come forward with proposals for the powers they need to boost their local economies.
The Lib Dem leader said it was vital his City Deal agenda did not leave England with “two-tier decentralisation”, where “urban areas flourish and rural communities are left behind”.
His words were welcomed by business leaders across rural North and East Yorkshire, which have so far seen little benefit from the coalition’s commitment to strip powers from Whitehall and hand them back to local authorities and business leaders in a bid to kick-start growth.
The York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) said it is already working on a devolution proposal which will be lodged with Ministers before the end of the year.
Mr Clegg was speaking at an event in London yesterday, where as expected he confirmed that Hull and the wider Humber area will be one of 20 cities or city regions invited to bid for their own devolution package in the second wave of City Deals, in a significant victory for the Yorkshire Post’s Fair Deal campaign,
The announcement follows similar agreements signed off with England’s eight largest cities – including Leeds and Sheffield – earlier this year.
The Leeds and Sheffield City Region deals, which between them cover the whole of West and South Yorkshire, as well as York, give councils sweeping new powers to decide how money is spent locally on transport, infrastructure and skills training.
The Deputy Prime Minister said those first eight deals were expected to create 34,000 apprenticeships and 175,000 new jobs, and revealed that cities that succeeded in their aims of boosting growth and cutting unemployment would be offered the chance to bid for further powers.
“I can confirm today that when core cities can demonstrate clear progress against the objectives in their plans we’ll reopen the negotiation process to see if further power can be transferred,” he said. “We’ve always said the first deals would be the beginning, not the end.”
Mr Clegg made it clear that the policy would be extended beyond urban areas before the next election. “I’d like to see a deal for every area that can make it work,” he said. “By 2015, I would like every part of Great Britain to feel like it has significantly more freedom than in 2010.”
Mr Clegg said it was right to trial the policy in the largest cities where most jobs are created, but underlined that there will be no divide between town and country over the longer term.
“We’ve had to prioritise the next set of areas most critical to national growth, which is why we’re still talking about cities,” the Sheffield Hallam MP said. “But there is no reason why this should be an urban phenomenon.
“I’m absolutely clear – we mustn’t end up with two-tier decentralisation, where urban areas flourish and rural communities are left behind.
“Where other areas have ideas for their communities I would urge them to come to Whitehall with that vision, to help keep up pressure on the Government machine.”
Barry Dodd, chairman of the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding LEP, said last night that work had already begun in his organisation to do exactly that.
“We are going to put together the package of things we need and take it to Government,” he said.
“We are talking about this right now. We will have this with them by Christmas.”