Leeds demands ‘fair deal’ over cash

Leeds Civic Hall.

Leeds Civic Hall.

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Senior councillors from all the main parties have united to demand a fair deal for Leeds.

Their call comes amid claims that for many years Leeds has failed to attract anything near its fair share of government cash.

The plea comes as the city awaits a government decision on its stalled £235m trolleybus scheme.

Coun Keith Wakefield, council Labour leader, said the city was not looking for hand-outs but wanted support to help drive the regional economy out of the downturn.

He said that while Liverpool got £1,300 per head from the government to help it provide key services and Manchester £1,100, Leeds received just £796.

He said Leeds – with a population heading towards 800,000 – had many disadvantaged areas in needs of help.

Coun Wakefield argued it was unfair that counties such as Surrey and Hampshire had fared better than Leeds and other northern cities in the latest grant settlement.

When council tax income is taken into account, Surrey and Hampshire received grant cuts that will reduce their spending power by one per cent or less, while Leeds and other northern cities suffer much greater reductions - over eight per cent in some cases.

Refused funding for a supertram, still awaiting a decision on plans for more local rail stations, forced to fight tooth and nail for support for an arena and with its proposed flood defence scheme shelved, Leeds is hoping to win government money for a trolleybus system but is facing competition from over 50 schemes bidding for money from a £630m government pot.

Coun Wakefield said: “I am fed up of hearing that Leeds is the biggest city in western Europe without a modern transport system. It has been recognised that Leeds can play an important part in leading the economic recovery and we need infrastructure investment to help us create jobs.”

Coun Andrew Carter, Conservative group leader, said: “There’s no doubt that over the past 20 years Leeds has not got what I consider to be a fair share of resources from central government.”

He said: “I am working hard to try to persuade the coalition government that Leeds can lead our part of the North out of recession and certain things needs to be put in place to make it happen.”

He added rather than just moan, it was important Labour councillors showed ambition and a willingness to work with the coalition government.

Coun Stewart Golton, Liberal Democrat group leader, said Manchester has been successful in winning investment partly because all local authorities and MPs in the region had for many years worked closely together to lobby government. He said it was a lesson Leeds could learn.

Leeds Central Labour MP and former Environment Secretary Hilary Benn is to lead a delegation from the city to urge a government rethink over the decision to put the flood defence scheme on hold.

He said: “We need this scheme, especially given the close shaves we have had in the last few years. A huge amount of work by the Environment Agency has gone into designing the defences because the impact of a major flood would be devastating both for residents and for the city’s businesses and economy.

“It is vital that we impress upon the Secretary of State just how important this scheme is. I will be leading a delegation from the city to see Caroline Spelman to make our case.”

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