Yorkshire devolution ‘must include mayors’

Northern Powerhouse Minister James Wharton
Northern Powerhouse Minister James Wharton
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INSTALLING elected mayors in Yorkshire will be central to any deals to give the region powers over its own affairs that match Manchester’s, a Minister has insisted.

James Wharton promised to work with business and council leaders to make sure all of Yorkshire benefits from the Government’s offer to hand over powers and money in areas such as transport and skills from Whitehall.

But he insisted there was no room for negotiation over the creation of new elected mayors for areas which agree devolution deals.

Council sources in the region have previously suggested there may be scope for devolution deals to be reached without creating elected mayors.

Mr Wharton is a key figure in the devolution discussions as the Minister responsible for delivering the Government’s so-called ‘northern powerhouse’ plan.

He told The Yorkshire Post: “Nobody has to have devolution, it will not be imposed on anyone. But if people want it, if they want a deal like Greater Manchester, if they want a significant package of powers then it will come with an elected mayor.

“The Chancellor was clear he would settle for nothing less and quite rightly so.”

Greater Manchester struck an agreement with the Government last year which saw the area’s ten councils agree to have a single elected mayor in return for sweeping powers including on housing, planning and transprt and a bigger voice on how health and social care budgets are spent.

Big Debate: Yorkshire at a crossroads over its devolution ambitions

Discussions are taking place between Yorkshire councils over what devolution proposals to submit to Government ahead of a deadline next Friday set by Ministers.

West Yorkshire’s five councils have invited Harrogate, Selby, Craven and York to be part of a ‘Leeds city region’ bid.

However there is also support for a broader proposal involving West Yorkshire, the whole of North Yorkshire, East Riding and Hull and it is possible both plans could be presented next week.

South Yorkshire councils appear set to submit a ‘Sheffield city region’ bid with neighbours in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

Mr Wharton said the debate in Yorkshire was “exciting” and vindicated the Government’s insistence that areas come up with their own proposals rather than having them imposed by London.

And he promised to listen to views from across the region before agreements are reached.

He said: “We are going to look at everything that comes in. We want to work with local areas to find agreement, to find geography, a package of powers, to find a solution that works for the people who know Yorkshire best, who know York best, Leeds best, rural North Yorkshire best.

“We want to talk to local leadership, both political and business to get the right solution.”

Mr Wharton was speaking during a visit to the region which included meetings with councils, business representatives and local enterprise partnerships where he stressed he wanted Yorkshire’s rural districts to benefit from devolution alongside the region’s major towns and cities.

Mr Wharton said Yorkshire “matters an awful lot to the Government”.

“We want to send that message that Yorkshire has a key role to play in building the northern powerhouse and driving the northern economies,” he said.

Initial devolution proposals are due to be submitted by September 4 with more talks taking place in the autumn.

YORKSHIRE’s response to the Government’s offer to devolve powers is the latest subject of The Yorkshire Post’s Big Debate series.

A panel of key figures will debate the major issues in front of an audience of readers of The Yorkshire Post in Leeds on September 17.

Humber Local Enterprise Partnership chairman Lord Haskins, Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake, Andrew Carter from the Centre for Cities thinktank and Wakefield Council leader Peter Box are due to take part.

If you would like to attend please email jayne.lownsbrough@jpress.co.uk. Please also suggest a question you would like to ask.