Analysis: Devolution debate exposing differences in Whitehall and Yorkshire

The devolution debate in Yorkshire has taken another twist today with the revelation that the Treasury and West Yorkshire councils are understood to be close to agreeing a deal.

Greg Clark

If it is confirmed that the deal will cover West Yorkshire authorities with neighbours allowed to apply for “associate status” that would appear to finally scupper the hopes of those campaigning for a broader agreement - the Greater Yorkshire or White Rose plan - covering the whole of West, North and East Yorkshire. (South Yorkshire is already doing its own thing).

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But given the history of this debate, it is hard to believe this will be the last word on the matter.

In recent weeks, as soon as one side has claimed it is the only show in town, others have insisted there is everything to play for.

In part this reflects the strong views held on all sides of the discussion here in Yorkshire but it also reflects the mixed messages coming out of Westminster and Whitehall.

While Chancellor George Osborne will ultimately sign off any deals there are several ministerial colleagues playing a role in the discussions.

Local Government Secretary Greg Clark, Northern Powerhouse Minister James Wharton and newly enobled Lord Jim O’Neill have all held meetings with council leaders and other interested parties over Yorkshire’s devolution dilemma.

And they bring rather different perspectives.

During the current trade trip to China, Mr Clark told the FT that he thought the Greater Yorkshire had a “great deal of merit” while in his previous existence Lord O’Neill led the City Growth Commission which looked at how cities could drive growth suggesting he might be more disposed to the West Yorkshire ‘city region’ approach.

Government Ministers have repeatedly insisted they won’t act as referees in the Yorkshire devolution debate. But in the different signals they are sending, they are in danger of aggravating the division.