Call for cabinet of four mayors in Yorkshire

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A CABINET of four mayors serving each of the corners of Yorkshire could be the solution to solving the region’s deadlock over devolution, a former Treasury Minister has claimed.

Lord Jim O’Neill said the Government would not accept under any circumstances a pan-regional settlement but said that the cabinet of mayors would satisfy desire in the region for the so-called One Yorkshire model by allowing Yorkshire to pursue region-wide approach to transport and health matters.

He added that support for the One Yorkshire solution for the whole county was diminishing among MPs following the Budget, which saw large amounts of increased spending handed to parts of the country which had elected mayors along the urban model set out by Government.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Lord O’Neill, a former top economist at Goldman Sachs, said: “There is an opportunity that has arisen for the broader goals of Yorkshire pride being satisfied so long as people can be a little bit more specific and focused.

“The opportunity to move towards next year essentially four urban-based deals, three of which could be announced as soon as possible after the Sheffield one. The beauty of the four simultaneous deals under a Yorkshire-wide cabinet allows for all the rural areas to be part of it as well, but not as part of this ungovernable and impracticable Yorkshire-wide deal.

“Obviously there will be people who won’t like it but I know people are shifting away from it.

“The beauty of it is that it allows for all the understandably proud benefits of celebrating Yorkshire as a county.”

Lord O’Neill said he expected that the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) would support a cabinet-of-mayors model and that it could allow a pan-regional approach on certain key areas.

The DCLG said there was “no intention of undoing the Sheffield City Region deal” but it would welcome discussions with other Yorkshire councils if they had suitable ideas.

“I think the Government would really love to experiment more on health devolution and definitely with transport,” said Lord O’Neill.

Councils and businesses in Yorkshire were left disappointed by last month’s budget which saw large-scale announcements for regions which had elected mayors. Among the measures Philip Hammond announced included a £1.7bn Transforming Cities Fund which would be used to empower the six areas with elected mayors.

However, spending for Yorkshire was scant, something which Lord O’Neill was swaying politicians away from the One Yorkshire model.

“The budget was so powerful in that regard,” he said. “I was slightly surprised by the budget there was more Northern Powerhouse stuff but virtually none of it was for Yorkshire’s benefit.

“I know there are some important Yorkshire MPs changing their mind following the budget.

“The deal north of Tyne and all the money handed out for Northern Powerhouse should have made it clear as it has ever been that urban-based deals are what the government is pursuing.

“And so I know there had been, and still is, this heightened desire for a greater Yorkshire deal but if that had not had been killed in people’s minds before the budget it should have been.”

He added: “Going back two years ago, if it was not for the opposition of Yorkshire MPs there might have been some progress already. If it can be done to have the other three deals simultaneously under some unifying umbrella with Sheffield city region as well it is really practical and really sensible.”

Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake was among those to suggest the cabinet structure could work.

“The key thing about all of this is the money,” he told The Yorkshire Post. We are being left behind by not doing anything. There is a conversation that we should be having on this model.

“In politics the focus always has to be on the land of the possible. There is no point in crying over split milk over One Yorkshire, let’s get on with something else.”

However, Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis, one of One Yorkshire’s most enthusiastic supporters, distanced himself from the plan.

He said: “There’s growing support for a wider Yorkshire deal that would give us the collective clout, both to co-operate and compete with other parts of the country and around the world.

“That’s what would be in the best interests of the people of Yorkshire and what a lot of us are working very hard to achieve.”

Meanwhile, former chancellor George Osborne, who alongside Lord O’Neill founded the Northern Powerhouse initiative, told journalists at a lobby lunch event that it was a “matter of regret” that Yorkshire had yet to elect a mayor. He said: I take some encouragement [from] Tyneside where we also faced problems, people have now resolved their differences locally and they are going with devolution, and I’m pretty optimistic that the same thing will happen in Yorkshire.”