Leaders meet to give verdict on Boris Johnson's Yorkshire devolution promises

Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes a speech at the Convention of the North at the Magna Centre on September 13, 2019 in Rotherham. Photo: Getty
Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes a speech at the Convention of the North at the Magna Centre on September 13, 2019 in Rotherham. Photo: Getty
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A major step forward may be taken in Yorkshire devolution today as local leaders meet for the first time since Boris Johnson promised to end the long-running deadlock over a transfer of powers to the North.

Leaders are expected to meet at midday in York, with the aim to draw up a response to the Prime Minister’s promises on devolution made in Rotherham last month.

When Mr Johnson spoke at the Convention for the North he promised to open up negotiations with Leeds and West Yorkshire, and left the door open for a transfer of powers to cover the entire region.

Promising to "do devolution properly", the Prime Minister said a new 'Yorkshire committee' of local leaders would be a practical step for getting the region's authorities to work together.

At the time Arianna Giovannini, interim director of the think-tank IPPR North said “setting up a Yorkshire Committee is a step in the right direction”.

And it is understood Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry has been tasked by the Prime Minister with overseeing devolution in the North.

But now that local leaders meet for the first time, they are expected to give their judgement on whether the commitment goes far enough - plus what they want to see next.

Carl Les, Leader of North Yorkshire County Council, said: “Boris seems to be in favour of a Yorkshire devolution deal but perhaps not as far as we wanted to go or as quickly as we wanted to get it.”

But he said he could accept that as “stepping stones” to get to where the majority of leaders wanted to be.

“It’s a way of getting to where we want to get to in the future,” he said. “I’m hoping that we can arrive at a One Yorkshire deal some time in the future.”

Those who are pitching for a One Yorkshire deal covering the whole region are seeking answers over what happens to the rest of Yorkshire where smaller deals have not been agreed, and then what happens in 2022 when the deals run out.

Since the signing of a Sheffield region deal in May - and now promises to go ahead with Leeds and West Yorkshire - a region-wide deal has been ruled out at least until 2022.

But the fear is that while in the meantime smaller city deals may benefit specific areas, the Government may become less inclined to endorse a One Yorkshire deal down the line.

A delegation to Westminster led by Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu on Tuesday urged politicians to put a One Yorkshire deal commitment in any upcoming manifestos.

And while Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the Green Party were keen on the plans, discussions with Conservative ministers were still ongoing.

Thirsk and Malton Conservative MP Kevin Hollinrake attended the One Yorkshire meetings but said he still felt city region deals were the best way forward. However he did not rule out a One Yorkshire deal if everyone could agree.

“I’ve personally always been for a city-based solution,” he said. “But I always said if every local authority backed a One Yorkshire deal it’s got to have serious consideration. I think the best way is to move forwards with the city deals and then we’ll see how they develop and see how effective they are.”

But he was keen to make progress where possible and added: “Let’s get on with what we can get on with.”

While Robert Goodwill, Tory MP for Scarborough and Whitby was still supportive of a One Yorkshire deal, but said smaller deals or a Greater Yorkshire deal - which excluded South Yorkshire temporarily since a separate deal had been struck - in the meantime could pave the way.

He added: “As long as we don’t then get stuck.”

He said: “We should try and get a big an area as possible. My worry is that we won’t really reach that critical mass and I would not want to see orphan areas.

“I think Yorkshire is being held back by not having a devolution deal, we’re seeing Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen really on the front foot, talking to the Prime Minister at conference, that way a mayor can engage on behalf of the people has been very effective.”

Dan Jarvis, Labour MP for Barnsley Central and Sheffield City Region Mayor, met with the Prime Minister in Rotherham to discuss devolution. He said: “Following my recent meeting with the Prime Minister to discuss devolution, it’s encouraging to see further progress being made on interim arrangements to devolve both powers and funds to Yorkshire.

“I believe that devolution is a critical part of the rebalancing of our regional economy, and if we get it right, offers us a huge opportunity to benefit the people who live and work here.

“At a moment of national crisis it is more important than ever, that we work together to ensure the best possible deal for Yorkshire. That’s why I’m working hard with fellow leaders across our county and with national government to make it happen.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “The Government is committed to devolution and the establishment of more mayors. As the Prime Minister announced in Rotherham on September 13, we have begun talks with Leeds and West Yorkshire about agreeing a devolution deal. The talks have been productive and we hope to agree a deal soon.”