BUDGET: Yorkshire put under pressure over mayors

THE Chancellor used his Summer Budget to try and ratchet up the pressure on Yorkshire councils to sign up to devolution deals on his terms.

George Osborne confirmed devolution talks in the Budget

George Osborne took the opportunity to announce a fresh raft of powers for Greater Manchester which last year agreed to move to an elected mayor in return for a bigger say over its own affairs.

That initial deal was followed by a later agreement covering integration of health and social care in the city.

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The latest powers include putting the city’s fire service under the control of the mayor as well as the creation of a commission to exercise powers over public sector land and a bigger say over key government programmes.

But the substance of the powers was less significant than the signal it sent to other areas, such as Yorkshire, that Manchester is leading the way and they need to reach their own agreements quickly - including accepting elected mayors - if they do not want to be left behind.

“The historic devolution that we have agreed with Greater Manchester in return for a directly elected mayor is available to other cities who want to go down a similar path,” he told MPs.

The Chancellor confirmed, as revealed by The Yorkshire Post, that discussions have begun with the Sheffield city region group of councils as well as “West Yorkshire and partner authorities” on “far reaching devolution of power in return for the creation of directly elected mayors.”

Budget documents said the devolution deals will be “agreed in parallel with the Spending Review”.

With the Government announcing the outcome of its spending review in the autumn, a summer of haggling over the detail of devolution to Yorkshire now lies ahead.

West and South Yorkshire leaders have already made clear that they want the Government tohand over significant powers in return for them agreeing to elected mayors.

Proposals set out by the Leeds City Region group of authorities include the power to raise money from business to pay for major infrastructure schemes, taking on the powers of the police and crime commissioner and introducing London-style franchised buses.

Roger Marsh, chairman of the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership - the body which brings together councils and business in the area to grow the economy - welcomed the Budget announcement on devolution.

“Driving the region’s economy is paramount to all LEP activity and devolving further powers and funding will enable us to achieve our ambition to turn our economy into a net contributor to the public purse.

“What we need to see secured as part of ongoing discussions with government is a deal that would provide powers for our area to raise its own finances.

“Devolution is not real devolution without fiscal powers and we will continue to call for this as we work up the detail ahead of the Spending Review.”

Sheffield Council leader Julie Dore called on Mr Osborne to “put the substance behind their rhetoric.”

She said: “This is about more jobs, better jobs, and building a thriving economy for the people of Sheffield, now and for generations to come.

““It is clear that the government are determined to impose mayors as part of this process, and throughout the negotiations we have kept all options on the table.

“But the government need to demonstrate that they are willing to put greater investment, and local control over the programmes we need to deliver results, in return.”