The prospect of an historic Yorkshire devolution deal could be put at risk by politicians “pursuing their tribal instincts to protect what they have now got”, former Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine warned today.
But the Tory grandee, a leading advocate of decision-making powers being transferred from Whitehall to the English regions, told a conference in Leeds there was no reason why the devolution deals in Manchester and Liverpool could not be replicated east of the Pennines.
He spoke as Yorkshire’s MPs and council leaders challenged Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid to agree an election for a region-wide mayor in 2020 during face-to-face talks in London.
Elected leaders from every one of Yorkshire’s councils bar Rotherham and Sheffield have signed a letter calling for the Sheffield City Region mayoral election this May to be followed by an agreement for a combined authority covering the widest possible geography.
During the meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire, Mr Javid did not rule out a One Yorkshire agreement or elections in 2020 but refused to commit himself to any particular timescale.
He called on Yorkshire leaders, who are due to meet again in York on Monday, to come up with more details about how such a region-wide arrangement might work.
Mr Javid told the BBC after the meeting: “Our door is open to any further proposals, any new proposals, including for a potential One Yorkshire deal, if that’s what local authorities want to come forward with, as long as it doesn’t jeopardise the South Yorkshire deal, because it is so important.
“£1bn of investment, going to that region, leading to thousands more jobs, I think that is really important.”
Keighley MP John Grogan told The Yorkshire Post: “What I took from it is that there is no longer a principled objection to One Yorkshire [from the Government], which there was at one stage, and they are not saying 2020 is impossible.”
Conservative MP Kevin Hollinrake, who represents Thirsk and Malton, said there was consensus among the MPs and council leaders present to deliver a pan-Yorkshire deal.
He said: “[Sajid Javid] was quite clear that he wouldn’t stop One Yorkshire but that it had to be a universal agreement, that all the local authorities had to agree. The ambition is wonderful but if some of the local authorities don’t then it is going to be very difficult.”
Lord Heseltine, who spoke at the Northern Powerhouse Conference organised by the New Statesman magazine alongside former rival Lord Prescott, his successor as Deputy Prime Minister, said “very serious progress” was being made on devolution west of the Pennines.
He said: “There are mayors, there are devolved powers and there are budgets of significance, administered and delivered as public-private sector partnerships.
“The problem for someone like myself coming here, east of the Pennines, is that we haven’t got, with the exception of course of the Tees Valley, we haven’t got a working mayoral authority.
“It would be ill-advised for me to trespass on the comings and goings, shall we put it, that are now underway. There are some interesting potential developments. I hope very much that they will actually develop into the real thing.
“I just have one or two points to make about that, I wonder whether those who are pursuing their tribal instincts to protect what they have now got realise the damage that does in the corridors of power in London.
“What it really says is that they can’t even agree on this or that, how can we trust them with the major resources and the major shift of power they are asking for, that they can’t even reach agreement.
“Reaching an agreement and implementing that agreement is a fundamental confidence-building factor, and I hope very much that I can say with humility that I can’t see why what’s possible west of the Pennines has so far not yet been achieved east of the Pennines.”
MPs, peers, council leaders and chief executives were at the meeting of the APPG today, along with Mr Javid and Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry.
In a statement, 18 of Yorkshire’s 20 council leaders welcomed the fact that the Government wouldn’t stand in the way of a One Yorkshire proposal.
They said: “The Secretary of State requested as a next step that he would want to see concrete proposals and Leaders made clear that given the level of agreement across Yorkshire that these could be submitted to Government rapidly. Indeed leaders will be meeting next week to discuss these detailed proposals.”