Commission calls for council merger

A new report is calling for a devolved Humber combined authority
A new report is calling for a devolved Humber combined authority
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BUSINESS leaders on the Humber are hoping the Government intervenes to order political leaders to put aside their differences and avoid a devolution shambles.

Dr Ian Kelly, chairman of the Hull and Humber Chamber of Commerce, said the “worst of all worlds” would be for the East Riding to “waltz off to North Yorkshire leaving Hull a ‘Billy no mates’.”

It comes after an independent commission called for a merger of Hull and East Riding councils and a devolved combined authority on the Humber, amid concerns the two authorities are heading in opposite directions.

The commission, overseen by the Institute of Local Government Studies, was originally set up by Hull Council to investigate the city’s boundaries and a possible expansion into the East Riding.

More than 50,000 East Riding residents voted against the city’s expansion in a referendum in September 2014.

But the commission says recent political animosities should be put to one side and the possibility of a Humber combined authority should be bought back to the table.

It is concerned Hull could become a partner in the West Yorkshire Combined Authority while the East Riding teams up with North Yorkshire.

It said: “This is a poor outcome because it neglects the economic significance of the Humber, leaves Hull as a small, junior partner and cements the boundary problem further.

“We hear that the East Riding is in active discussions with North Yorkshire and York about a North Yorkshire Combined Authority.

“This would present a similarly poor outcome because it would take the “Greater Hull” business rates with it into a different pool, splitting the economic development and infrastructure planning further away from Hull.”

Commission chairman Tom Martin said people needed to look beyond the minutiae of local politics: “We consider that the two areas are in fact an interlocking single system and should develop as such.

“In effect they have one heart but are of two minds, yet it is clear that one cannot exist without the other.

“As part of the Northern Powerhouse and with devolution in the air, the opportunities are there for the taking. It is vital that Hull and the East Riding do not miss out.”

Dr Kelly, who is also on the commission, said there was “every chance” the Government would see the report made commonsense. He said: “West Yorkshire doesn’t want Hull and our business community doesn’t want to see them go.

“The most disastrous option would be for the East Riding to go to North Yorkshire and break up Hull and its hinterlands.

“Now the Chamber, the LEP and South Bank MPs are saying it is time to reboot the Humber. I hope the Government will intervene to nudge things in the right direction.”

However in a statement East Riding council leader Steve Parnaby said a joint bid with York and North Yorkshire “was felt to offer the best possible outcomes and our discussions will continue with our partners and Government about going forward.”

He said the council was already working closely with neighbouring authorities, securing £60 million of Regional Growth funding and around £104m Local Growth funding.

Hull Council leader Steve Brady said it was “certainly not their preference” to be partner in a West Yorkshire combined authority having argued from the start for a full Yorkshire combined authority. He said: “Over a year ago I suggested a Humber combined authority, but it was wilfully misrepresented as an attempt to recreate Humberside (Council)” Asked whether the idea could be a goer, he added: “In politics you never say never.”