Osborne ‘confident’ on Yorkshire devolution deals

GEORGE Osborne has expressed confidence the region will secure devolution deals this autumn despite the haggling over Yorkshire’s plans to take more control over its own affairs.

George Osborne at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park today. Picture: Scott Merrylees

Initial proposals to take powers from Whitehall to Yorkshire in areas such as transport and skills have to be presented to the Government next week and Ministers could be presented with competing visions over how the region should be run.

West Yorkshire’s five councils last week invited neighbouring Harrogate, Selby, Craven and York to join them in submitting a ‘Leeds city region’ bid.

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That move looked to have scuppered a broader ‘Greater Yorkshire’ proposal taking in West and North Yorkshire, East Riding and perhaps Hull.

But it is now understood some supporters of the Greater Yorkshire idea still want to submit their proposal, opening up the prospect of competing bids going into the Treasury.

Mr Osborne, who toured the region yesterday, said: “I’ve always said I don’t want to sit in Whitehall and Westminster and impose some model on West Yorkshire or indeed the whole of Yorkshire.

“I want to hear what local councils, local people think is the best way to make sure that Yorkshire has a strong voice and that decisions that affect Yorkshire are taken in Yorkshire.

“So we are going to hear those ideas. It’s a great county with some complicated geography and some well established city rivalries but that’s a healthy thing and I’m pretty confident we will be able to come forward with a plan that’s going to work for the people of Yorkshire and work so that decisions that affect this part of the world are taken here.”

The scramble to put bids together follows Mr Osborne’s offer to devolve powers and Government money from Whitehall to areas which come up with solid proposals and commit to having an elected mayor.

The offer is part of Mr Osborne’s ambition to create a ‘northern powerhouse’ better able top compete in the global economy by improving connections between the North’s towns and cities.

That vision was tarnished by the Government’s decision earlier this year to put the planned electrification of key rail routes in Yorkshire on hold but the Chancellor defended the decision.

He said: “The concept of the northern powerhouse is much bigger than any one engineering project.

“It’s about bring cities closer together with faster transport links, yes, it’s about having elected mayors and Greater Manchester has made that decision, it’s about getting more industry and science here.”

Mr Osborne said rail passengers would see improvements despite the pause in electrification, through improved services and better trains. But he insisted the Government was “absolutely determined to see it through” once a report on Network Rail’s investment plans by chairman Sir Peter Hendy has been completed.