The leader of Leeds City Council has claimed the “genie is out of the bottle” when it comes to Yorkshire-wide devolution, and urged the Government to work together with regional leaders.
The comments came during today’s One Yorkshire devolution conference in Leeds, where regional leaders and captains of industry met to discuss future prospects for central government to hand more powers to Yorkshire.
But Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry responded in a speech of his own, hinting that the Government favoured smaller city region deals.
Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake told the conference: “For generations, Yorkshire, along with other communities across the North, have not had the investment and infrastructure that should rightfully have been theirs.
“We did actually go for a Leeds City Region deal after George Osborne became Chancellor – unfortunately that was not backed by government. We were then told that Yorkshire was a priority for devolution, and to come back and talk to our partners and our communities about the way forward.
“We did this, and that is the background to the One Yorkshire deal.
“We have worked with business partners, trade unions and our communities, and we have made a coherent and powerful economic case. We want to work with government, not against it.
“There is a huge sense that, at the moment, our ambition is being held back, and we are being thwarted in being able to achieve things we want to do.
“We must not end up in a position where we go over old ground again. I would ask government very seriously to make sure they are working with us and not against us.
“I recognise from the statements government has made that they are not minded to fully embrace the One Yorkshire proposal, but that doesn’t mean we have to take it off the table in the longer term altogether.
“I think the genie is out of the bottle when it comes to talking about Yorkshire devolution.”
Leaders of 18 of Yorkshire’s 20 councils, plus metro mayor Dan Jarvis, submitted plans last year to form a so-called One Yorkshire mayoral authority which would have powers passed down from Westminster.
Such an authority would be given devolved powers and budgets from central government, with similar deals already in place in Manchester, Liverpool and the Tees Valley among others.
But central government has rejected the proposals, with Communities Secretary James Brokenshire saying Yorkshire was too big and diverse for its to fit government criteria for devolution.
Ministers have urged leaders to full implement the Sheffield City Region deal, which was signed in 2015 but has yet to be implemented because after talks broke down between local leaders.
Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry suggested in his speech that the Government would prefer a deal covering West Yorkshire.
He said: “I’m disappointed that, although we had a successful election [for the Sheffield City Region] and Dan Jarvis is rapidly becoming a powerful spokesman for his region, progress is still doggedly slow.
“I find it deeply, deeply frustrating that by the end of 2018/19, the people of South Yorkshire will have missed out on £90m of government funding that would, could and should have been invested into their economy because we are not able to complete the final stages of that deal.”
He also claimed Leeds was an “anomaly”, as it is the largest city in England without a devolution deal.
He added: “We hope that people will start to work together and cooperate together so we can release the potential of the Leeds City Region.
“Our approach to devolution in the Leeds City Region is clear: we believe there is huge potential and we stand ready to make rapid progress to make it happen.
“This is an opportunity to do something new and truly groundbreaking.
“Some devolution may be a way of unlocking all devolution in Yorkshire.”