Back-up devolution plan developed as Leeds City Region in pole position

COUNCIL leaders in North and East Yorkshire are drawing up a back-up plan to secure powers and money from Whitehall to try and ensure they are not left behind if Leeds city region authorities succeed in devolution talks with the Government.

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The move is the latest sign that a devolution deal involving West Yorkshire councils and some of their neighbours - an area known as the Leeds City Region - is the most likely to be agreed in the coming weeks although significant stumbling blocks remain.

North Yorkshire County Council, East Riding and York are among councils which have been pushing a rival Greater Yorkshire bid covering the whole of West, North and East Yorkshire, but have now confirmed they are preparing a fallback position.

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Parts of North Yorkshire are considering joining the proposed Leeds City Region deal and it has emerged that Harrogate councillors will be asked whether they want to take that option at a meeting next month.

Coun Carl Les, leader of North Yorkshire County Council, said: “We know that Harrogate and Craven are looking at what their options are and so inevitably we are going to have to do some ‘what if?’ thinking, what if Greater Yorkshire can never be delivered?

“We cannot deny the people of East Yorkshire, York and North Yorkshire the opportunity to share in the economic improvement that devolution is designed to bring.”

South Yorkshire has already agreed a draft deal that will see a metro mayor for the area elected in May 2017.

The Government is understood to be pressing for other deals in the region to be completed before the Budget in March.

Harrogate Council leader Richard Cooper insisted the decision to put Leeds City Region devolution to council members did not mean the authority was ruling out the Greater Yorkshire option.

He said: “The recommendations to the council don’t close off any options but clearly when one option looks likely to come to fruition then we have to discuss it.

“As soon as there’s a Greater Yorkshire deal we can put in front of councillors, a deal done with ministers, then I will put that in front of councillors for a free vote but at the moment it doesn’t look as if that can be done by March.”

The Government has struck a series of deals across the North of England that will see areas given new powers over their own affairs in areas such as transport, skills and planning in return for creating new elected mayors.

The remaining obstacles to a Leeds City Region deal going ahead are understood to be a mixture of technical and political.

Questions to be answered include whether areas outside West Yorkshire, if they join, would be full members from the start and take part in the mayoral election,

There remain concerns on the part of some key figures over whether the Government is offering enough in return for what would be a major change in the way the area is run.

Others argue the area risks being left behind if a deal is not done in the coming weeks.