LOCAL Government Secretary Sajid Javid has been urged to come clean over why a proposed devolution deal for West Yorkshire and its neighbours remains stalled.
A letter to Mr Javid from council leaders argues there is “compelling evidence” for the benefits of the Government handing key powers and money to the area known as the Leeds City Region.
Talks led to the drafting of a deal in March last year which could have seen the creation of an elected mayor for West Yorkshire, York, Harrogate, Selby and Craven to wield new economic powers alongside council leaders.
But no further progress has been made and council leaders are demanding to know why the Government has allowed the process to stall. It is thought the objection of some West Yorkshire Conservative MPs, who fear Labour would be favourites to win the mayoral election, is the reason no progress has been made.
The deal would build on the existing West Yorkshire Combined Authority which brings together the area’s councils to work on issues such as transport, skills and housing.
The news revelation comes as leading think-tank the IPPR North says the North must do more to show that the Northern Powerhouse is more than just a concept if the region is to address the increasing economic gap between North and South.
West Yorkshire Combined Authority chairman Peter Box said: “Over the past 15 months or so, my fellow Yorkshire council leaders and I have submitted a succession of constructive proposals for achieving a meaningful local devolution deal. Having had a deal on the table for some time, with little response from Government, we now need straight answers from Ministers about what is or isn’t a viable solution to ending this devolution deadlock.
“With cross party support from Combined Authority members, I am strongly urging the Secretary of State to give us some clarity so we can begin to make progress towards the transformational deal the Leeds City Region needs.”
The letter to Mr Javid stresses the shared economic interests of the districts included in the Leeds City Region proposal and claims the deal could help grow the economy by £3.7bn a year and create an extra 37,500 jobs over 20 years.
Ministers have agreed to hand over powers to Greater Manchester, Merseyside and the West Midlands which will elect new mayors in May. However, the Sheffield City Region group of councils - bringing together South Yorkshire, Chesterfield and Bassetlaw - is so far the only part of this region to have agreed a devolution deal.
But a legal ruling over the process and tensions between some of the local authorities have led to the deal, including the planned election of a new mayor, to be postponed until 2018. Some Yorkshire council leaders and chief executives are now exploring the idea of a single deal, and a single mayor, for the whole region.
However, Northern Powerhouse Minister Andrew Percy, the Brigg and Goole MP, has branded the idea a “distraction” and warned the draft proposal would not be possible under the law as it stands.