Osborne seeks Chinese help for powerhouse as trade trip energises devolution debate

GEORGE Osborne has told Chinese investors he wants their money to help deliver his northern powerhouse vision that will also see Yorkshire take more control over its own affairs.

George Osborne speaks at the Shanghai Stock Exchange

The Chancellor invited China to consider investing in the North of England during a trade trip by Ministers and council leaders which has also offered new hope to supporters of the Greater Yorkshire bid for devolution.

Positive comments made by Communities Secretary Greg Clark about the Greater Yorkshire idea during the same trip have energised its supporters.

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Moves are underway to develop a comprehensive proposal and secure more cross-party support for the idea.

Mr Osborne’s northern powerhouse economic plan involves investing in better infrastructure to better connect the towns and cities of the North while handing over key powers in areas such as transport and planning from Whitehall to areas which agree to have elected mayors.

Speaking at the Shanghai Stock Exchange Mr Osborne compared the northern powerhouse plan to China’s own efforts to rebalance its economy.

Mr Osborne said: “We need China to power our economy forward. That’s why I’ve come to China again and again in this job.

“That’s why I’ve brought with me here this week leading British businesses, the heads of great British cultural institutions, the civic leaders of Britain’s great northern cities and the largest ministerial delegation that I have ever brought to China.”

The leaders of both Leeds and Sheffield councils are on the week-long trade trip to China which has improving links to the North of England as one of its key aims.

As part of Mr Osborne’s northern powerhouse plan, Yorkshire’s councils have submitted a series of proposals over how power could be devolved to the region.

The Greater Yorkshire plan would see the whole of West, North and East Yorkshire combining to form a single area for devolved powers and during the China trip Mr Clark said the idea had a “great deal of merit”.

Yorkshire MEP Timothy Kirkhope, a Greater Yorkshire supporter, said: “We are moving forward with some pace and we are heartened by the comments Greg Clark has made in China.

“We think that what we have in mind for devolution would help us in our dealings with countries like China and not just as a trading partner. We offer a much wider canvas - not just urban but also agriculture and tourism - and we think that appeals to countries like China.”

West Yorkshire authorities are not supporting the Greater Yorkshire plan but instead want to have their own Leeds City Region devolution deal that includes neighbours Harrogate, Craven, York and Selby.

Greater Yorkshire supporters acknowledge that their bid is at an earlier stage than the proposal from West Yorkshire which has benefitted from existing co-operation through the West Yorkshire Combined Authority.

Councils supporting Greater Yorkshire are now devoting fresh resources to developing more detailed proposals to discuss with Ministers.

North Yorkshire County Council leader Carl Les said: “At the moment it is only a letter of intent and we need to put the flesh on the bones.

“We are very please with the remarks Greg Clark made, it shows there is a lot of commonsense in the Greater Yorkshire bid.”

Coun Les said he remained open to further discussions with West Yorkshire leaders to find a way forward.