Devolution deals ‘moving closer’

CONFIDENCE is growing in the region that Chancellor George Osborne will be in a position to include commitments to devolution for Yorkshire in his Autumn Statement next week.

Coun Peter Box

It is understood intense negotations between local government officials in West Yorkshire and the Treasury have produced the outline of a potential agreement which would see more decisions over where money is spent and how services are delivered taken locally rather than in Westminster and Whitehall.

Sources in South Yorkshire have also signalled that discussions with the Government over a devolution deal are progressing positively.

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Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg triggered the discussions earlier this month when he declared he wanted West and South Yorkshire to be next in line for devolution and for agreement to be reached in “heads of agreement terms” by the Autumn Statement.

The limited time available to meet that target means that while the Chancellor should be able to make a commitment on devolution for Yorkshire next week, talks over the fine detail may continue into the New Year.

West Yorkshire Combined Authority chairman Peter Box told The Yorkshire Post: “Conversations have been taking place with Treasury officials on what a devolution package might look like.

“Conversations have also been taking place at a political level. All the Combined Authority leaders are keen to see a deal.

“However, I think we should make sure we get a deal that is a good deal rather than seek to have it included in the Autumn Statement necessarily.

“For me the most important thing is we get it right. Let’s not rush it to meet an artificial timetable.”

Housing, skills and transport are understood to be some of the areas where Yorkshire council leaders have expressed an interest in having a much bigger degree of control.

Discussions have also taken place over how decisions would be made locally and accountability to the public.

Mr Osborne has suggested areas wanting more control over their own affairs should adopt an elected mayor and the first English devolution deal signed with Manchester earlier this month included the creation of a city-wide mayor.

But the idea has been consistently resisted on this side of the Pennines and Mr Clegg strengthened Yorkshire’s hand earlier this month when he insisted that areas seeking devolution would not be forced to have so-called “metro mayors”.

He said at the time: “I have always been very very clear that I don’t want and I will not allow as Deputy Prime Minister for any part of Whitehall to impose a strait jacket on how areas decide to govern themselves.

“It is not for Whitehall to start pointing a big long finger and dictating to areas how they govern themselves.”

Mr Clegg said Manchester authorities had chosen an elected mayoral system but that was “not a kind of hoop which now everybody has to jump through”.

Voters in Bradford, Leeds, Wakefield and Sheffield were offered the chance to have elected mayors in referendums two years ago but rejected the idea.

The Chancellor has promised that the North will be at the heart of his Autumn Statement next Wednesday.

Mr Osborne has spoken of his desire to see the creation of a ‘northern powerhouse’ where the cities of the north can be better linked so together they can compete on the global stage.