A Conservative MP is set to spark a political row by calling for a referendum on whether two constituencies on the edge of a Yorkshire city should break away and form their own local council.
Shipley MP Philip Davies will next month launch a petition urging Bradford council to carry out a district-wide poll on the future of his constituency and that of neighbouring Keighley.
The outspoken Tory says Shipley and Keighley hand over more council tax to the Labour-run authority than anywhere else, but “don’t get a fair lick of the sauce bottle” in terms of where it allocates its shrinking resources.
But his suggestion has drawn an angry response from Labour politicians in Bradford district, with the council’s leader claiming that creating an extra council would “defy common sense” as it would be more expensive and damage local cohesion.
Mr Davies told The Yorkshire Post: “Everyone appreciates that local councils have had to make some difficult decisions over their funding, nobody argues with that.
“But what people feel with some justification is that Bradford council will cut everything back in the Shipley and Keighley constituencies and leave things largely in place in Bradford. Children’s centres was a prime example of that.
Decisions taken in Bradford are just as remote for people in Wharfedale as decisions taken in Whitehall. That is not localism. We want some proper local decision-making.Philip Davies
“Bradford wants to close down a swimming pool in Bingley, but they are building five new swimming pools in other parts of Bradford. Everyone feels they are not getting the support they need and deserve.
“They [Labour] pour all the money into their heartlands. People aren’t stupid, they can see that. Also the planning decisions, building all these homes on the green belt.
“Decisions taken in Bradford are just as remote for people in Wharfedale as decisions taken in Whitehall. That is not localism. We want some proper local decision-making.”
Mr Davies says the new authority, if it was created, would be the same size as Calderdale council. Legislation from the Government would be required for such a move, something Mr Davies says is most likely to happen if the council made a request as a result of pressure from a referendum vote.
The MP said that any referendum would be district-wide, meaning he would have to persuade residents in inner-city Bradford that it was in their interests for Keighley and Shipley to break away.
He said: “There are some real areas of deprivation and poverty in Bradford, there are in my constituencies too, but Bradford has much wider levels of deprivation and poverty.
“One of the problems they might have in terms of getting all the support they might otherwise be entitled to is that this level of deprivation and poverty is masked by having places like Ilkley in the Bradford district. There is a chance everyone could benefit from this.”
In response, Bradford council leader Susan Hinchcliffe said: “It defies common sense to set up two local authorities where you now have one. It increases costs – each has to have its own chief executive, its own directors and management teams and bureaucracy to deliver the same, and possibly worse outcomes.
“His stance is also damaging for cohesion, something his own Government are working positively with Bradford on.”
John Grogan, Labour MP for Keighley, said: “At a time of austerity, breaking up Bradford council would mean the loss of economies of scale in providing services and a costly reorganisation.
“The problem regarding the funding of services in Wharfedale and Airedale is the drastic cuts in central government funding, not the distribution of the ever shrinking cake.
“The argument seems to be that the richer areas of the district should split away but where does that argument end? Ilkley residents for example might say they do not want anything to do with Keighley or Shipley and want to strike out on their own with other areas in Wharfedale.”
Jo Pike, Labour candidate for Shipley at the next General Election, said: “This is a gimmick that Mr Davies has attempted previously, including just before the last general election. This is the second time he has called for a referendum. It’s an attack on a Labour-run council trying to deal with the challenges and problems he has helped create.
“It’s also a cynical ploy considering he must be well aware that such a change would require legislation from the Government.”