Chief Secretary to the Treasury David Gauke moved to end speculation that the Theresa May administration may be ready to discuss devolution of powers and money to English regions without the elected mayors demanded by her predecessor.
He also rejected suggestions that the new government is less committed to devolution in England than David Cameron’s.
Mr Gauke’s clear statement effectively represents a ‘take it or leave it’ challenge to South Yorkshire councils over whether they go ahead with the draft devolution deal they agreed with then chancellor George Osborne last year which includes the creation of an elected mayor.
It also puts West, North and East Yorkshire authorities on notice that ministers will not accept any solution to their ongoing wrangle over devolved powers unless it involves a new mayor.
Mr Gauke told The Yorkshire Post: “Across government we are engaging with local authorities and encouraging them to look at the advantages of devolution, of directly elected mayors.
“We see the advantages in Greater Manchester for example and the West Midlands, areas which are moving in that direction.
“It helps London to have a directly-elected mayor and indeed other parts of the country. We continue to be supportive of that devolution.”
He added: “For those areas that don’t want to go down that route we will look at the devolution options that are there but to get the most powers you need the best accountability and that’s delivered by directly-elected mayors.”
Mr Gauke’s comments represent a return to the Treasury’s position under Mr Osborne where it was made clear devolution deals of any significance had to involve a mayor.
South Yorkshire councils are due to decide by the end of October whether to go-ahead with their Sheffield City Region deal in its current form.
Council leaders in the area recently asked for clarification over the Government’s position amid suggestions the election of the area’s new mayor planned for May 2017 may be postponed to allow the detail of the deal to be revisited.
The belief that the new May Government may entertain deals without elected mayors also triggered a fresh round of talks between council leaders in West, North and East Yorkshire where it has been seen as one of the major stumbling blocks to a deal.
Mr Gauke’s intervention appears to strengthen the hand of those calling for a Leeds City Region devolution deal although he also gave hope to areas beyond major cities.
He said: “A lot of the focus has been on cities, obviously London was the first, but I think it would be good to see some inter-county deals to show how devolution can work for all parts of the country.”
Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid told the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham he would be “continuing with our ambitious devolution agenda”.