Berry questions economic case for '˜One Yorkshire' devolution

NORTHERN POWERHOUSE Minister Jake Berry has insisted the Government wants a 'bottom-up' approach to devolution to Yorkshire as he ruled out the idea of a single region-wide settlement.

A devolution deal covering South Yorkshire was signed in 2015 but has yet to take effect

Mr Berry questioned the economic argument for a Yorkshire-wide deal and suggested the Government was particularly keen to reach an agreement involving Leeds.

Yorkshire has struggled to agree deals with the Government to take over responsibilities in areas such as skills and transport as other parts of the country have pressed ahead and elected new metro-mayors to wield those powers.

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An agreement has been reached with South Yorkshire councils but political and legal problems have delayed the election of the mayor until next year.

Some councils have suggested a single ‘One Yorkshire’ devolution deal should be struck covering the whole of the region.

But Mr Berry rejected the idea as he visited Leeds for the first time since Theresa May appointed him to the Northern Powerhouse job after the election.

He told The Yorkshire Post: “We already have Sheffield, Doncaster, Rotherham and Barnsley going ahead with plans for a Sheffield City Region deal, they are going to have mayoral elections in May 2018. So I think that deal going ahead probably prevents a Yorkshire-wide deal.

“But the other reason I don’t think a Yorkshire-wide deal is actually the right solution is that the mayoral deals tend to be on economic geography and the best economic geography that we hope will come forward will be a Leeds deal.

“These deals are bottom-up, they are not about Government coming in and saying ‘you will have this type of deal’ and we are hoping Leeds and the surrounding areas will come forward with a really exciting and ambitious plan for a combined authority with a mayor and we look forward to hearing from them.”

Former health secretary Andy Burnham and ex-John Lewis managing director Andy Street were among the new metro-mayors elected to wield devolved powers in May,

Mr Berry said: “Where we have the existing mayors, in Manchester, Liverpool and the Tees Valley, they are already starting a conversation with government about saying ‘What more can we do? What would the next tranche of devoltion look like? Can we take more powers? Can we get more money from central government?’

“The only thing I would say to local authorities across Yorkshire is that if you fail to grasp this huge opportunity that devolution offers you, you will find yourself left behind in those further devolution deals. Those conversations are already taking place and they are not part of those conversations. I hope they can become part of them.”

Mr Berry emphatically rejected the suggestion the Government was intent on agreeing devolution deals outside South Yorkshire which would produce Conservative metro-mayors.

He said: “It is not about politics it is about getting an economic area which can work. I think that is the great bravery of the devolution deals because you have a Conservative government that is prepared to hand significant powers and significant money back to the regions - something as the minister for the Northern Powerhouse I absolutely support - on a politically blind basis.”