Leaders told not to take a ‘second best’ deal

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls
Shadow chancellor Ed Balls
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CITY leaders in West Yorkshire have been urged by the Shadow Chancellor to hold a back from accepting a “second-best” Treasury devolution deal and instead promised more freedoms under a Labour government.

Mr Balls has hit out at George Osborne after an expected Autumn Statement announcement on a multi-million pound devolution package failed to appear. The Treasury is said to be dragging it feet on a huge job-creation package after West Yorkshire refused to accept a new metro mayor as part of the deal.

It is thought Nick Clegg’s Sheffield city region could soon be handed its own deal, leaving Leeds, York and Bradford among those still to see any handover of Whitehall powers.

In his Autumn Statement Mr Osborne said “my door is open” when it comes to other councils getting the same devolution package made available to Manchester last month, in which the Greater Manchester leaders were handed £300m for housing, the chance to earn back £30m from the Treasury for rail investment and huge influence over wider transport decisions, as well as the power to set a legally binding plan for the city.

On the Yorkshire side of the Pennines a deal has not been forthcoming, and yesterday Mr Balls urged council leaders to continue to stand strong in their battle with the Treasury.

The Morley and Outwood MP said: “I think it is wise for Leeds to hold out for the best deal, and come the General Election we can get devolution back on track.

“It does not make any sense for West Yorkshire to be short-changed with second class devolution when compared to Manchester.”

He added: “The idea that you need an entry ticket of an elected mayor is perverse. This is George Osborne showing his true colours, playing political games.”

It is understand the council leaders on the West Yorkshire Combined Authority have directly and repeatedly told ministers and special advisors that they will not accept a metro mayor, especially given that voters have previously turned down similar plans in local referendum.

After telling officials they will not add a new layer of politician to the landscape in Yorkshire talks with Whitehall stalled.

The stand off remains, though there is the possibility Mr Osborne will revise down his offer, perhaps excluding some of the transport and investment money asked for.

Peter Box, West Yorkshire Combined Authority Chair and Wakefield Council Leader, said there was “clearly no appetite for a metro mayor in Yorkshire.”

“As I have made clear previously, my Combined Authority colleagues and I are determined that we get the right deal rather than one hurriedly put together to meet the artificial deadline of the Autumn Statement.”

The deputy prime minister last month said he had intervened to ensure the Treasury does not force a mayor onto areas which do not want one, and Mr Box said the councils looked forward to seeing the commitment followed through.