Council leader adds to “Yorkshire devolution” momentum

Carl Les
Carl Les
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PROPOSALS to revive the prospect of a region-wide deal for Yorkshire to take over powers and money from the Government have taken a significant step forward after another council leader declared he was “open” to the idea.

North Yorkshire County Council leader Carl Les claimed the public wanted to see any devolution deal for Yorkshire cover the “largest possible area”.

His intervention follows Doncaster executive mayor Ros Jones’s call last month for fresh talks to explore whether a Yorkshire-wide deal could be revived.

A draft deal is already in place which would see South Yorkshire councils along with Chesterfield and Bassetlaw take more powers in areas such as transport and skills wielded by council leaders working alongside a Sheffield City Region mayor elected in May.

Other parts of the region have yet to agree a deal with the Government as council leaders and MPs disagree over what form it should take.

In recent weeks momentum has grown behind calls for a fresh attempt to reach a single agreement for Yorkshire before South Yorkshire councils take the final decision to press ahead with the deal they agreed last year.

However, The Yorkshire Post has been told a number of council leaders in West and South Yorkshire remain deeply sceptical that the idea of a single agreement - with a single Yorkshire mayor - could work.

In a statement which will be read to next week’s North Yorkshire County Council meeting, Coun Les said discussion he had held with Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid had made it “crystal clear” that the Government would only give significant devolution deals to areas which agree to have elected mayors.

Any attempt to secure a deal without a mayor would leave Yorkshire with “devo-lite”, Coun Les said.

The statement continued: “Along with the other leaders in York, North and East Yorkshire including Hull, I remain committed to devolution to the largest possible geography, as this is fair to all, and of a significant size to compete nationally and internationally.

“This remains the preference of a large part of public opinion, the media, most business leaders, the majority of MPs across all parties and all the region, and the government.

“If a devolution deal was available to the whole of Yorkshire, One Yorkshire, following the above principles, I would be very willing to participate in such discussions.”

Supporters of the Yorkshire-wide approach argue it would preserve the region’s “brand” and create a mayor who could be its voice on the national and international stage.

Critics of the idea argue devolution should be focused on growing the economy by giving powers to areas centred on Yorkshire’s major cities and their neighbouring districts or ‘city regions’.

What are devolution deals?

The Government has struck a number of ‘devolution deals’ to give areas the chance to take over powers and money currently controlled by ministers.

As a condition of the deals, ministers insist on new regional elected mayors which, they argue, the public will be able to hold to account over how the powers are used.

The first of the new mayors will be elected in May with former health secretary Andy Burnham and ex-John Lewis managing director Andy Street among the candidates already confirmed in Greater Manchester and the West Midlands respectively.