Smaller towns must profit from West Yorkshire devolution deal, Wakefield Council leader says

A historic devolution deal for West Yorkshire now appears to be closer than ever.
A historic devolution deal for West Yorkshire now appears to be closer than ever.
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Any devolution deal for West Yorkshire must prioritise investment for smaller towns, one of the region's most senior council leaders has said.

Peter Box, who's led Wakefield since 1998, said that the days of concentrating funding in big cities were "long gone" and that spending now needed to be focused in other areas.

Councillor Box made his remarks at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

Councillor Box made his remarks at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

It follows reports last week that a long-awaited devolution deal for the Leeds City Region is close, and could be signed as early as November.

If agreed, it would see an unprecedented transfer of powers to local leaders.

Speaking at a council Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Coun Box said that a meeting between council chiefs and the Secretary of State for Communities last week had been constructive.

He said: "The response from the government was positive. There are clear indications that they are willing to do a deal with us.

Will places like Knottingley benefit from a power transfer?

Will places like Knottingley benefit from a power transfer?

"What's emerged is something that's based on the Leeds City Region, which is something this council has advocated for some time.

"One thing I've stressed is that the devolution deal we may be asked to sign has to include funding for smaller towns.

"I think everyone now recognises that the days when we singly invest in those big cities is long gone.

"We need far more investment in Knottingley, Hemsworth, Castleford and Pontefract."

One potential sticking point to the deal may be the appointment of a metro mayor, who under the proposals would be installed from 2022.

They would have control over adult education, economic growth and housebuilding, in a deal similar to the one in place in Greater Manchester, where former Labour MP Andy Burnham is mayor.

But Coun Box reiterated his view that an elected mayor should not be in place to suck powers away from individual councils.

He added: "Devolution means taking powers from Westminster down to us.

"It does not mean taking powers from this council away and giving them to an elected mayor.

"I've made it quite clear that cannot happen."

Coun Box said he'd asked council officers and the authority's chief executive, Merran McRae, to start negotiations with civil servants about how much cash the Wakefield district would get as part of any deal.

Local Democracy Reporting Service