Is this the only game in town?

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THERE are significant geographical and political differences between Yorkshire and Merseyside that explain the latter’s significant new financial powers to create jobs, improve education and kickstart regeneration schemes.

First the geography. Merseyside is a relatively self-contained area with Liverpool at its core. In contrast, Yorkshire is far more disparate, both from an urban and rural perspective, and with two rival cities – Leeds and Sheffield – vying for dominance.

Now the political. Could Merseyside have received these new powers because Liverpool City Council pressed ahead with the introduction of directly-elected mayors – a flagship government policy – without a referendum?

Contrast that approach with this region where four cities – Leeds, Sheffield, Wakefield and Bradford – are struggling to drum up interest for May’s mayoral vote, while Doncaster is looking to scrap this local leadership concept after a decade of turmoil.

As such, there is much for leaders of the Sheffield City Region, and the comparable body in Leeds for that matter, to ponder when Cities Minister Greg Clark visits South Yorkshire today. His commitment to Merseyside, enabling city leaders to keep a greater proportion of local business rates and to preside over the construction of 12 new secondary schools, albeit part of the wider academies programme, shows that there is real financial clout behind the Government’s regional strategy.

The challenge is finding the most effective way to harness, and then utilise, these powers in a region where the mere mention of the term “City Region” invariably sparks debate about perceived rivalries between conurbations as well as equally unhelpful talk about hidden agendas.

This could have been offset if Yorkshire Forward had been retained. The counter-argument is that every week spent debating the handover of these new powers delays the implementation of a new regional agenda.

Nevertheless, the Merseyside deal shows that this approach is the only game in town – despite its flaws and the Government’s mixed messages on localism – and Yorkshire cannot afford to miss out. The issue, therefore, is how best to maximise this opportunity.