The most significant power shift from Whitehall to the English regions in a generation will gather pace today when Nick Clegg announces that Hull and the wider Humber area can bid for a ground-breaking package of new powers and funding to kick-start its economy.
In a major victory for the Yorkshire Post’s Fair Deal campaign, the Deputy Prime Minister will reveal this morning that the Humber has been earmarked for its own City Deal, following the success of similar agreements with the Leeds and Sheffield city regions earlier this year.
If confirmed, the Humber City Deal is likely to see council leaders request unprecedented control over spending on transport and other key infrastructure as well as new powers to re-focus local skills training as the Humber seeks to capitalise on its potential as a centre for green energy.
“This is a major opportunity for Hull and the Humber,” Mr Clegg told the Yorkshire Post. “I really hope the councils come forward and grasp it with both hands.
“I want Hull and the Humber to come up with ambitious and innovative proposals to help them make changes that will be felt by everyone across their region.”
City Deals are the most eye-catching component of the Government’s drive to give council and business leaders more control over their own destinies and so end the culture of dependency on Whitehall.
Eight such devolution packages have already been signed off with England’s largest cities this year, and local authority leaders have been pressing for the scheme to be extended to other major urban areas.
The Yorkshire Post has made winning a City Deal for Hull and the Humber one of 10 key aims for the second year of its Fair Deal campaign, which is seeking to ensure the region is given the best possible opportunity to recover from the economic crash and finally begin to close the North-South divide.
Writing in this newspaper in July, David Cameron dropped the first clear hint that such a measure was in the pipeline, stating: “The City Deal for Hull will support those now being finalised in Sheffield and Leeds.” Mr Clegg will announce today that 20 more towns and cities will be offered the chance to bid for their own City Deal, including Hull and the Humber.
The deal is not yet set in stone, however. The four local councils on either side of the Humber – Hull, East Riding, and North and North East Lincolnshire – will be asked to draw up proposals for the powers they want with the Humber local enterprise partnership over the next two months.
Treasury officials insist that only the most innovative and effective proposals will be signed off by Government.
“What I’m doing is firing the starting gun on a competition,” Mr Clegg said. “These 20 areas will need to compete against each other to show they’ve got the best ideas for a City Deal. They need to promote jobs and the local economy and they need to enhance the lives of local people.”
The first wave of City Deals announced earlier this year saw councils win powers to invest and run local transport networks, raise money through new tax levies and set up apprenticeship schemes to tackle youth unemployment.
Mr Clegg said the success of the first eight deals showed why it is now important to extend the devolution drive to other parts of England.
“In the best English tradition we have witnessed a quiet revolution across the nation’s eight largest cities,” he added.
“From control over buses and trains and the freedom to plug skills gaps, to powers to “earn back” tax and set up local investment funds to spend on local projects, the deals are unlocking the huge potential of our cities so they can go for growth.
“Now it’s time to free even more places from Whitehall control.”