West Yorkshire devolution talks 'now down to brass tacks'

Talks over getting a devolution deal for West Yorkshire in time for next month’s Budget have come “down to brass tacks”, a Minister said tonight.

Communities Minister Simon Clarke

Communities Minister Simon Clarke said the Government and local leaders were “not light years apart” after the latest meeting in Leeds to hammer out how vital powers and resources could be handed to the county.

A number of areas still remain unresolved, including the size of the ‘gainshare’ funding pot to be awarded to the mayoral authority and the range of powers an elected Metro Mayor would have at their disposal.

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Officials will continue negotiating in the coming days in the hope that an agreement can be reached which can announced in the Budget on March 11.

West Yorkshire leaders said after the meeting that they had “impressed on the Minister the scale of opportunity for the UK if the full potential of our region can be unleashed”.

They said in a statement: “We agreed with the Minister that sufficient progress had been made since our last meeting for us to continue negotiating with the hope of reaching an agreement by the Budget on 11 March.”

Mr Clarke, a Tory MP in Middlesbrough, told The Yorkshire Post that the meeting saw “frank conversations” about how to resolve the remaining issues.

He said: “We are not far apart on these questions. Both sides are working hard to get the right outcome from their perspective.”

Mr Clarke said he had expected it “would come down to brass tacks”, but added: “We are not light years apart at all.”

He said: “There are certainly hard yards to go. We are working hard to facilitate that and we need to get the right deal. That is what we will be dedicating ourselves to in the next week-and-a-half.”

A breakthrough would mean West Yorkshire would finally start making up the gap to areas like Greater Manchester which have had devolution deals for years.

Meanwhile in North Yorkshire, district council leaders have warned they could veto a devolution deal if they are not handed decision-making powers in a new authority covering North Yorkshire and York with a Mayor at the helm.

The warnings, seemingly issued to the leaders of City of York Council and North Yorkshire County Council, follow the-then Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry asking the county council leader and seven district council leaders to review how the authorities are organised.

The request, which came ahead of the councils brokering a devolution deal with the government, has rekindled a long-running debate over whether the 3,341sq mile area should be run by a two-tier county and district council system, which some claim is more representative, or have a unitary authority, which could save up to £40m a year.

Following a meeting between some of the district council leaders, it is understood some are behind maintaining the status quo as they view devolution as the “main prize”, while others have called for the districts to take over the county council’s functions.

Council sources have said much of the debate between the seven district councils and City of York and North Yorkshire County Council rests on whether votes in the new authority should be weighted according to population. However, they added that while Ministers were behind devolution, civil servants in Whitehall would not give up their powers without a battle.