David Green: Tory MPs are preventing devolution deal

A Northern Powerhouse without devolution to one of the key economic drivers in the North of England, Leeds City Region, is nothing more than rhetoric.

Leeds City Region, West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) and the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) were established by the Government in recognition that they cover a functioning economic area with over 90% of the people working in the region living in the region. The interconnectivity of the distinct towns and cities in the region makes it the logical footprint on which to devolve economic power which is the basis of the Government’s plans. So why hasn’t it happened? What’s the delay?

The Leaders of West Yorkshire Local Authorities have been clear from day one that if the Government was to pursue the logic of its own economic agenda then the City Region geography is the only one that makes sense. Unfortunately this is not a view shared by those who appear to have agendas other than the economic regeneration of their communities.

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We have accepted that, despite our opposition to the concept of the mayoral model of governance, this is a red line for Government. We believe that the benefits to the people we represent outweigh our governance concerns as long as sufficient checks and balances through a Cabinet system and Assembly are implementedand as long as the devolution on offer matches our ambition.

Our efforts to secure a deal have been hampered by Tory MPs, some of whom don’t want any devolution and some of whom wish to gerrymander boundaries for political self interest over economicgrowth. We have also faced opposition from many Tory councillors and councils who are more concerned about the future of their power base than the advantages that a proper devolution deal can bring to their residents.

We have already seen the benefits that we have been able to achieve through the limited devolution we have received as a LEP and WYCA. This has given us the ability to target resources at local businesses to assist growth in the regional economy and employment opportunities, invest in infrastructure projects that meet the needs of the local business community and our population, and continue to improve the level of skills in our community to meet the needs of both existing and new businesses in Leeds City Region.

Through the actions of the regional bodies, working with each Local Authority, we have achieved some of the lowest rates of young people not in education, employment or training in the country. The cost per job of our investment is one of the lowest in the country and is significantly lower than any national scheme.

Even with the limited elements of devolution we received in our 2015 Devo deal which is more a system of delegation, we have proved, as a City Region, that we can deliver for local people and businesses. We know that there is a long way to go and that without a devolution deal our ability to deliver even greater benefits will be limited.

We have proposed a deal to Government, a deal which is not as much as we would want but is what we believe that the Government will realistically give, as the first step in a journey to devolved economic control for our region. Those who are standing in the way of this first step are doing so on the basis of self interest or protecting the status quo and it is clear that the status quo has ill served many of our communities, businesses, towns and cities over the years.

To block the opportunity for progress due to perceived political self interest is ill serving the people that we are elected to represent and for the Government to bow to this sort of pressure would give real cause to question their commitment to their Northern Powerhouse pledge and their support for the regeneration of one of the key economic regions of the United Kingdom.

Coun David Green is leader of Bradford Council and a member of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority