North needs to join together to become a ‘locomotive of growth’

YORKSHIRE will take another big step towards controlling more of its own affairs when the Government sets out how it will back the region’s ambitious economic plans in the coming weeks, the Deputy Prime Minister has told The Yorkshire Post.

Nick Clegg.
Nick Clegg.

Nick Clegg confirmed the Government is hoping to announce next month where it will be investing its £2bn-a-year Local Growth Fund.

And he said that Yorkshire’s success in securing and organising the Tour de France Grand Depart has showcased its readiness to have a much greater say over its affairs.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

The Deputy Prime Minister, who helped secure Government funding for the Grand Depart, told The Yorkshire Post: “There is such great potential in Yorkshire for us to shape our own fate, make our own luck, create our own successes by everybody in Yorkshire working together in the name of Yorkshire and for the benefit of Yorkshire.

“I think one of the lessons I’ve derived from this is that while I have played an active role in Government to give the whole Yorkshire Grand Depart project a shove where I could at the end of the day I want to see Yorkshire stand more on its own two feet and great cities like Sheffield stand more on their own two feet and not have to go cap in hand to Whitehall all the time.”

The Deputy Prime Minister also said, in common with many others his own family had been inspired onto their bikes by the Tour.

“If I can get my three kids on a bike the sky’s the limit!” he said.

Ambitious plans have been submitted from all four corners of the region covering skills, transport, infrastructure and job creation to try and remove the key long term barriers to economic growth as they try and secure a significant slice of the Local Growth Fund.

Some northern business and council figures have suggested next month’s announcement is the Coalition’s last chance to show it is serious about narrowing the North-South divide.

Mr Clegg described the deals that will be offered through the fund as “another big step towards the kind of Britain I want to see, the kind of Yorkshire I want to see, where people can basically take their own decisions that affect themselves and their own communities rather than having everything determined in a windowless office in Whitehall”.

The Government has previously promised devolution to the region and has struck “city deals” covering West and South Yorkshire and the Humber.

But the centrepiece of the West Yorkshire city deal agreed two years ago, a £1.6bn transport fund, has hit a roadblock after the rules over the way councils raise money were changed.

Further talks to try to find a solution are due to take place next week.

“I’m certainly pushing very hard to make sure there’s a solution to this,” Mr Clegg said.

“To be fair there is increasing cross-party agreement that transport infrastructure in Leeds is essential to the region’s long term future.

“After all, George Osborne last week was just talking about the importance of Manchester-Leeds and Leeds-Sheffield transport links.

“That’s something I’ve been saying for a long period of time so it’s important that we keep up that momentum and that it’s reflected in the growth deals themselves.”

During a visit to the region this week the Chancellor and Prime Minister set out their vision of elected mayors running large parts of Yorkshire with powers and spending power to rival those wielded by London mayor Boris Johnson.

But the Deputy Prime Minister did not agree with his coalition partner that devolving power from Whitehall should be linked to having an elected mayor.

“I think for areas that want elected mayors, good luck to them, but I have never thought it is sensible to say devolution can only take place if a particular way of organising yourself locally is first implemented,” the Sheffield Hallam MP said.

“I don’t think that’s fair to parts of the country, like Sheffield for instance, where there was a democratic decision not to follow the mayoral route.”

Mr Clegg said that while some areas had elected good mayors, the system had also given rise to some “pretty eccentric characters”.

“I don’t think the mayoral model is a magic wand solution,” he said.

“What I do think is absolutely essential is that we create a vibrant Northern triangle in which Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield become increasingly interchangeable in the sense that people can live in one place and work in another, you can travel from one place to another more easily than you can at the moment.”

He added: “We’ve got to create the kind of collective clout of those three great cities on different sides of the Pennines in order to act as a locomotive of growth in North.”