GEORGE OSBORNE says he is ready to re-open negotiations on a West Yorkshire devolution deal on the first day of a Conservative government.
The Chancellor insisted he could do a deal with Labour council leaders in the region in line with the agreement struck with Manchester last year giving the city sweeping powers.
A devolution agreement for West Yorkshire was announced in Mr Osborne’s last Budget but it was less comprehensive and was later described as “timid” by Leeds City Council leader Keith Wakefield and “disappointing” by his Wakefield counterpart Peter Box.
But the Chancellor insisted it was leading Labour figures, including Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, who were the major roadblock to a Manchester-style deal.
Mr Osborne said: “First of all, we took an important step with the city deal we struck with West Yorkshire authorities at the time of the Budget.
“I would like to go further but I don’t want to impose anything on anyone. I want the authorities here, local people here, to work out together what’s the best combination, what kind of arrangements they want and then come and have that conversation.
“I think, maybe, we got a bit close to the General Election and some of the national Labour politicians around here didn’t want us to be working across party lines with local Labour leaders. They couldn’t stop it happening in the North West because we had already travelled a long way down the road.
“I hope therefore on May 8 we can pick up the conversation with local Labour leaders here who I’ve always been able to work with and get the deal done that works for the people here.”
The Chancellor was speaking to The Yorkshire Post at the Carlsberg plant, in Tingley where Mr Balls is defending his Morley and Outwood seat with a majority of just 1,101.
And he poured scorn on Mr Balls’s devolution credentials as Labour offers local areas a comprehensive package of powers in areas like skills, housing and transport as well as control over £30 billion of Government spending.
Mr Osborne said: “They were in office only five years ago so you know how they behave in office. They never gave any of these powers to cities and towns in Yorkshire when they were in office so why would you expect them to do so in the future.
“They only pay lip service to supporting Yorkshire, when it comes to it they actually like to run things from London.”
Earlier he had delivered a speech on the factory floor claiming that a Labour government propped up by the SNP would cost jobs and cause mortgage costs to rise.
It was the latest effort to earn a decisive shift of votes to the Conservatives in a string of finely balanced marginal seats in this region which Labour is also battling hard to win.
And the Chancellor insisted he was not disappointed a string of positive news on the economy and weeks of campaigning had so far failed to tip the balance.
“It’s a very close election and we’ve got to make sure people are aware of the consequences of a change of course on the economy and I’ve come here to West Yorkshire to make that point to people,” he said.
“In all elections you have the early skirmishes but we are now only two weeks to go and I think people will start to really focus and ask themselves this question: ‘Do we want to go back to square one in Yorkshire, do we want to go back to high unemployment in Yorkshire?”