Devolution must not be delayed by coronavirus crisis - West Yorkshire council leaders

How will devolution for West Yorkshire work? Susan Hinchcliffe, Tim Swift, Shabir Pandor, Judith Blake and Denise Jeffery, the leaders of Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds and Wakefield Councils respectively explain their vision.

West Yorkshire council leaders with Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Simon Clarke, a Communities Minister, at the signing of the area's devolution deal following March's Budget. Picture: PA Wire

IT is a little over 10 weeks since we signed the West Yorkshire devolution deal with the Chancellor and the Communities Minister on a sunny morning in Leeds.

There is no escaping the fact that the sense of optimism around our region and its future that day has been overshadowed in the following weeks by the dreadful toll the Covid-19 pandemic has taken on our communities.

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Through our councils, and as partners through the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, we have played a leading role in the region’s response.

Chancellor Risihi Sunak at the signing of West Yorkshire's devolution deal. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Our staff have continued to deliver essential services, including care and support for the most vulnerable, and we pay tribute to their dedication and hard work through this crisis.

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Through our councils, £430.6m in funding has so far been distributed to 37,385 local businesses while the Combined Authority’s business support service has advised 4,200 companies to access the help they need.

As the region’s transport authority, the Combined Authority has worked closely with bus and rail operators to ensure key workers can get where they need to be.

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We have also begun to plan for what comes next by bringing together the West Yorkshire Economic Recovery Board to collaborate on how we rebuild in a way that delivers for all our communities.

The common thread that runs through the devolution deal, our response to Covid-19 and creation of the Economic Recovery Board is our belief that West Yorkshire is strongest when it works together.

Our track record demonstrates the benefits of this approach, most recently through the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

Starting with securing the largest Growth Deal in the country, we have delivered college buildings equipped to prepare young people for 21st century jobs, helped young people enter work through apprenticeships and those of all ages to retrain for new careers.

We have delivered new rail stations, park-and-rides and support for bus services that have helped people move from cars to public transport. Our cycling and walking infrastructure is contributing to better transport and improved health, and will play an important role as we gradually emerge from lockdown.

We have attracted businesses bringing new jobs and opportunities and strengthened flood protection for our communities.

The driving force behind our determination to secure the best devolution deal possible was our collective ambition to go much further.

The deal brings into local control more than £1.8bn in investment, including £38m a year for 30 years into a West Yorkshire Investment Fund with freedom to spend on local priorities.

It delivers £317m to invest in public transport, cycling and walking. The deal secures a Government commitment to work with us develop a modern mass transit system and provides access to a new £4.2bn Government fund to support public transport.

It gives local control over how £63m is spent every year to support adult education. And through the election of a West Yorkshire Mayor in May 2021 we secure much greater control over major decisions currently taken in London.

The deal is a beginning not an end. We expect the Government to continue to make new funding and powers available to areas with devolution deals and this agreement will ensure we are at the front of the queue.

It also allows us to continue to collaborate with our partners across Yorkshire and goes further by securing £200,000 in funding, allowing us to 
work together on the issues it makes sense to address on a Yorkshire-wide basis.

You now have the opportunity to have your say on the future of West Yorkshire and role of the devolution deal in the public consultation on what the deal will mean for West Yorkshire.

The views gathered through that consultation will inform how we take the devolution deal forward and will be considered by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary (Robert Jenrick) before the next legal steps are taken to bring the deal into force.

This consultation process will be more challenging given the restrictions relating to Covid-19, but we will be working hard to ensure that it is as accessible as possible.

We also firmly believe that to delay the consultation, and therefore the implementation of the deal with the powers and funding it unlocks, would hamper West Yorkshire’s recovery and our ability to ensure all our communities receive the support they need in the years ahead.

As we emerge from the shadow of the pandemic, it is vital we rediscover that sense of optimism we had when the deal was signed in March. We want to rebuild in a way that raises living standards for all, creates jobs, improves skills and tackles the climate emergency while making a full contribution to the UK’s economic recovery and long-term growth.

Make your voice heard in the consultation on at www.yourvoice.westyorks-ca.gov.uk.

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