LONDON MAYOR Boris Johnson called for Yorkshire’s major cities to be given sweeping powers over how taxes are raised and spent to drive growth as he visited the region today.
Mr Johnson refused to enter the debate over whether Yorkshire should have elected mayors but insisted taking control over major tax revenues was the key to transforming the North’s economic fortunes.
While his Conservative colleagues the Prime Minister and Chancellor have promised to devolve powers as part of a vision to create an “economic powerhouse” in the North they have stopped well short of Mr Johnson’s vision.
The London Mayor said: “What you definitely need is powerful civic leaders and you need fiscal devolution, not just for London but for all cities in the UK.
“What you get out of that is a real stability in the funding for great cities.
“In London our success is very much founded on continuous investment in transport infrastructure. We are able to develop parts of the city, brownfield sites, that would otherwise be untouchable. You can only do that if you have a steady stream of investment, a tax base against which you can borrow.”
He said control over council tax, stamp duty, capital gains tax and business rates could all be handed over to big cities with safeguards agreed with the Treasury.
Mr Johnson added: “The great cities of this country are relatively infantalised by comparison with say France or Germany or particularly the United States.
“I also think there would be a benefit to politics. I think politics in Britain has been going through a bit of a scratchy period, to put it mildly.
“Everybody would have much more interest in politics and would be galvanised not only to take part but to vote, if they thought their local politicians had more of a say about the decisions that will really affect them locally.”
The London mayor was speaking after visiting businesses along the main street in Farsley, Leeds, stopping to meet shoppers surprised to meet the popular figure.
Shouts of “Boris” came from passing cars although not all passers-by were complimentary.
A trip to The Fleece pub produced the gift of a bottle of Black Sheep beer but he declined to follow Nigel Farage’s example and drink a pint for the cameras.
Mr Johnson is making a series of stops in West Yorkshire marginal seats today as campaigning for May’s general election gathers pace.
Farsley is in the Pudsey constituency captured by the Conservatives at the 2010 General Election by a majority of just 1,659 votes.
Jamie Hanley, Labour’s candidate for Pudsey, said: “This week we have seen the extent of the NHS crisis engulfing Leeds, with almost three time more patients waiting over four hours for treatment at Leeds A&E departments than last year, yet Boris Johnson has gone out of his way to voice his opposition to Labour’s proposals to recruit 20,000 more nurses, 8,000 more GPs, 5,000 more care workers and 3,000 more midwives funded partly by introducing a tax on properties worth over £2million. Even in London where he’s Mayor that would only be paid by a very tiny proportion of households, and here in Leeds you’ll hardly find any properties that fit that criteria.
“The visit of the Mayor of London today just shows how desperate the Tories are. Local people who have been at the sharp end of the cost of living crisis will not take kindly to a man who described the £250,000 a year he received for a weekly column in a national newspaper as ‘chickenfeed’ trying to tell them how to vote.”