Following a summer of political upheaval, including several high-profile policy U-turns, there have been serious doubts about Theresa May’s commitment to her predecessor’s devolution agenda.
But her enthusiastic show of support for the multi-billion pound West Midlands deal in PMQs yesterday has given the region renewed confidence in her determination to achieve similar deals elsewhere.
Responding to questioning by Midland’s MPs James Morris and Wendy Morton, Mrs May was quick to praise the region’s landmark £8bn agreement. She described the the deal as a vital part of the region’s continuing economic growth, declaring that it was not only good for the Midlands, but “good for the rest of the country as well”.
“It is the biggest devolution deal that is being done... it will provide the West Midlands with £1 billion over 30 years to spend on local projects that will drive economic growth,” she said.
“[This] will deliver more jobs and economic prosperity.
“[The deal] is good for the West Midlands and constituents.
“It is good for the rest of the country as well.”
The comments come amid growing speculation about the future of devolution bids in the Yorkshire region. Rotherham MP Sarah Champion has suggested that Government support for these deals is “shaky”.
She told the Yorkshire Post yesterday that “done right”, a devolved authority could harness “the great potential of our region”. But she warned that if the Government “can’t put its money where its mouth is” devolution risks becoming an electoral gimmick.
“With South Yorkshire’s deal recently having completed consultation, and with mayoral elections planned for May 2017, we need clarity on what exactly a devolved City Region authority will look like,” she said.
Wakefield council leader Peter Box, however, took a more optimistic tone. He told the paper that he remains “very hopeful” that Mrs May’s Government will support Yorkshire devolution.
“There was some uncertainty following the change of government as to whether the Prime Minister would be as committed,” he said.
“It’s quite clear now, from some of the statements that have been made, that [she] is.
“In West Yorkshire, where we have been working very closely now for a number of years, we are very ambitious.
“If we get it right, and we can continue to work together, the people who will benefit are the residents we represent in our different cities.”
Mrs May also played up the importance of the elected mayor to Midlands deal yesterday. The requirement for a similar arrangement in South and West Yorkshire has proven unpopular among some groups involved in the bids.
However, the Conservative MP for Pudsey, Stuart Andrews, said that with nearby city regions such as Manchester and Liverpool adopting a mayoral model, he saw no reason why Yorshire “should also be left out”.
“We need a deal for Leeds and Yorkshire, and I will be doing all I can to make sure we are not left behind,” he added.
Responding to the debate, a Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said the Government is “totally committed to devolution in Yorkshire and putting power back in the hands of local people”.