Leeds council leader ‘dismayed’ at government’s lack of action over One Yorkshire

Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake
Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake

The leader of Leeds City Council is “dismayed” and “disappointed” at the government’s lack of response to Yorkshire’s devolution proposals, a meeting heard.

LEEDS: Leaders of 18 of Yorkshire’s 20 councils have submitted plans to form a so-called One Yorkshire regional authority, which would have powers passed down from Westminster.

Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake told a meeting of the authority’s resources scrutiny board that the government minister in charge of local authorities has not responded to their request to speak to him.

However, the government claims such detailed plans need time to be analysed before they agree to meeting regional leaders to discuss it.

Coun Blake said: “Despite our very best efforts working cross-party with all the leaders of 18 authorities signed up to moving forward on the One Yorkshire model, we are yet to have agreement or any real response from James Brokenshire after we requested to meet with him.

“The dismay of this is felt across 18 significant authorities have yet to secure a meeting with secretary of state – I’m not sure he has actually even visited Yorkshire since his appointment.

“We have put forward an independent economic case which clearly gives an account of the benefits that will come to Yorkshire as a result of the devolution deal. We are at a loss to know what further information they require before we actually sit down with ministers.

“Our submission is supported by the mayor of South Yorkshire and there is no reason why it can’t run alongside South Yorkshire. Members of the South Yorkshire area should be able to leave that area and join the One Yorkshire model.”

Conservative councillor Matthew Robinson suggested that other avenues should be explored.

He said: “On this basis surely there is a range of options for devolution that are on the table. The government may well turn round and say they agree with one Yorkshire, they may turn round and say they can’t agree with one Yorkshire and there is something in-between.

“If the government reject one thing, we can try and push another. Whatever colour of party we are at the moment, we know we need to prepare for every outcome.”

Coun Blake responded: “This is frustration from around the region at different proposals put forward. This is supported by 18 councils and we believe we deserve the courtesy of a meeting with the secretary of state to take our discussions forward.

“We need some urgent response from government. We need to sit down in a room with officials to talk about our proposals we have put forward, which is actually what ministers asked us to do.

“I’m not sure how much time you think everyone has got to keep putting together different proposals.”

Coun Ron Grahame (Lab) said: “The economic case is clear for all to see, yet we continually come back to say ‘no agreement’.

“No agreement means to me that they (government) are not interested in actually benefiting Yorkshire people or the Yorkshire economy. If it is so, why don’t they come forward and put something on the table?

“Here we are still struggling to bring benefits to the Yorkshire people. The economic case is there – why can’t they listen to our case?”

Coun Blake responded: “It’s not just Yorkshire. The fact is not enough attention is being given to the broader issues about devolution at the moment. There is a strong sense that minds are elsewhere.

“In terms of scale, why would anywhere in Yorkshire settle for anything less than what is emerging from the Midlands and Manchester? We are incredibly ambitious for our region and we want the best.”

Ben Still, managing director of West Yorkshire Combined Authority, added: “I think the way that devolution has worked in the past is that ministers have to signal an intent to discuss the issues. There needs to be a political meeting to decide on the detail, and that is the meeting we are not able to have.”

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government was approached for a comment, including as to whether Mr Brokenshire had visited Yorkshire since becoming local government secretary.

A statement was sent from minister for the Northern Powerhouse Jake Berry, which read: “It took the councils several months to prepare and send to the department their latest detailed information on One Yorkshire. Naturally, it will take time to properly consider this complex material in detail.

“We intend to meet local leaders to discuss the plans further, and we have already contacted North Yorkshire leaders to invite them to a meeting.

“Our priority is completing the Sheffield City Region deal so people can enjoy all of the benefits, including £900 million of investment.

“The City Region Mayor was elected on a commitment to implement it, and we will support him in this ambition.”