Heseltine in call to end city devolution delays

Leeds Council chief executive Tom Riordan
Leeds Council chief executive Tom Riordan
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THE Prime Minister has been told to set a January 2015 deadline for devolving power to the North.

An influential panel of experts and former politicians have joined forces to lobby for a strict timetable on what spending powers can be handed to city regions such as Leeds and Manchester.

At the launch of the influential City Growth Commission report yesterday former Goldman Sachs banker and commission chair Jim O’Neill said the Government needed to agree a devolution process that could run in parallel with any discussions on increased Scottish powers.

Such a move would, he said, mean a list of transport and spending powers available for discussion this January, though implementing the suggestions would need to wait until after the general Election in May.

He was backed by former cabinet minister Lord Heseltine, who has himself carried out a review of decentralising Whitehall powers for the Government.

“We have been talking about devolution to cities for decades, since I was first involved with Liverpool the Conservative peer said yesterday.

“We are all in agreement, devolution is in every speech and report. Now is the time to get on with it.”

Mr O’Neill yesterday went straight from the launch of his City Growth commission report to a lunch with prime minister David Cameron to discuss how to get new powers to key cities.

Earlier the PM had told MPs he was keen to act on Mr O’Neill’s report.

He said: “I think Jim O’Neill has done an absolutely first-class job with this report.

“I shall be seeing him later today, and I want to congratulate him on what he has done.

“There is a real opportunity here, the Chancellor has spoken about it, to create a northern powerhouse by looking at how we can use high-speed rail and other infrastructure to link up our great northern cities so that we really have a proper rebalancing of our economy.

“That is what this is all about, and I think that Jim O’Neill’s work is all to the good.”

Leeds Council chief executive Tom Riordan told the launch event that there was a great need to need to rebalance the country’s economy and agreed there should be powers devolved down with the first few years of a new parliament,

He added: ““We have never before been told what the prize is that’s on offer, now we can get to what is on offer.”

There was though a warning last night that some cities could miss out.

The leader of Hull City Council, Stephen Brady, has called for Hull to be recognised as a key driver of economic growth in the north.

He said: “Another report that fails to mention Hull and Humber. This should come as no surprise to our local authority colleagues.

“We have been stressing the need for a combined authority, to be at the forefront of these issues, for over two years, with no progress.

“Mr O’Neill, has assured us that we can be an integral part of the targeted growth areas but we need to get our act together.

“From our perspective, the north cannot afford to leave Hull out as the area has so much to bring to the table and we are busy spreading this message far and wide.

“Before that can happen, we have to demonstrate as a city and as a region that we are ready to take on more power by operating at the right scale and showing that we are joined up.”