Council bosses met online today to discuss the £1.8bn deal transferring powers and funding from Westminster, the announcement of which was described as “seeming like a lifetime ago.”
On March 10, during its Budget announcements, the Government revealed it would finally be signing off on a devolution deal for West Yorkshire that would see a new mayor installed and central powers instead now made locally.
Although the announcement was made a little over a month ago, the coronavirus crisis has since overtaken devolution as a major priority. West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) met this morning to discuss the deal for their first public meeting since the crisis.
As well as providing local leaders with greater powers, the deal includes funding worth over a billion pounds for transport and regeneration projects.
This includes £317m from the Transforming Cities Fund to progress schemes such as new cycle lanes and the pedestrianisation of areas of Bradford city centre, £3.2m to support the development of a pipeline of housing sites across West Yorkshire and access to a £25m heritage fund to support the development of a British Library North in Leeds.
Discussing the changing national picture since the budget annoucement, Ben Still, WYCA Managing Director, said: “It seems like a lifetime ago that this deal was approved.”
Bradford council leader Susan Hinchcliffe, who chairs the combined authority, pointed out that the deal would be vital in helping West Yorkshire recover from the looming recession caused by the virus and lockdown.
She said: "The money that comes with this deal will really help the area with the upcoming economic recovery.
“The deal has become more important now as it brings with it significant levels of funding. We will need every penny of this to help the area’s recovery.”
The meeting, which was broadcast live online, heard details of the deal including the timetable.
The devolved powers are due to come into play in May 2021, when the new Mayor of West Yorkshire is due to be elected.
Members said this timetable was “tight,” and a report to the authority said that May date could be changed depending on the coronavirus crisis.
Mr Still added: “We agree that it is a fairly demanding timetable, which is exacerbated by the current pandemic. It will be a challenge to get the pieces in place for the election next May.”
However, he said work would be done to meet the deadline. He said the deal was similar to other devolution deals implemented in UK city areas in recent years.
Councillor Stewart Golton, from Leeds City Council, said: “There are some problems, but these are good problems to have. We have to celebrate the fact that we’ve got some momentum, and council leaders need congratulating for the work that has led to this.”
Members said it was vital that people across West Yorkshire, politicians and the public, were fully consulted on the changes.