Coun Andrew Carter: Devolution drama worthy of Westeros

POWER PLAY: The chopping and changing and general Yorkshire devolution drama is like watching an episode of Game of Thrones.
POWER PLAY: The chopping and changing and general Yorkshire devolution drama is like watching an episode of Game of Thrones.
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Yorkshire Devolution is like watching an episode of Game of Thrones.

As the saga of precisely which local authorities will make up the devolved geography in Yorkshire rumbles on, I welcome the opportunity to set out my views.

Let me start by saying I have always been, and continue to be a supporter of a devolved authority.

My personal preference has always been the footprint of the Leeds City Region, a recognised economic entity that crosses political and geographical boundaries and recognises the way in which the economy in our part of Yorkshire actually operates.

The council areas in the Leeds City Region are the five West Yorkshire authorities, plus Harrogate, Craven, Selby and York, and possibly Barnsley.

This geography is, however, complex, because it encompasses different types of local authority, i.e. metropolitan, county, unitary and district.

The matter is, however, now urgent, and needs resolving. Other areas in the north of England have been able to agree a geography and will be able to access funding for economic development, infrastructure and job creation that we need, and must be able to access as well.

The situation though, often becomes bizarre, where the Labour Leader in Leeds, Judith Blake, has been peddling a whole of Yorkshire option; despite the fact she has been told that it is not acceptable to the Government; or to her own daughter, the deputy leader of Sheffield City Council.

Then we have the Labour leader of Wakefield, the former chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, re-elected in June only to resign and be replaced in August, a couple of months later, by the leader of Bradford. It is like watching an episode of Game of Thrones!

This is of course a very serious matter; but we do seem to be moving towards a geography that everyone can accept, combining not only the Leeds City Region, but other Yorkshire Local Authorities as well.

If we are all serious about power being devolved from London, we have to now collectively get our acts together and move forward, and I feel that currently there is a significant window of opportunity for this to happen. We need to work with the Government to find a way ‘through the fog’ and come up with something that works for all of us.

I will sound, however, one note of significant warning. There seem to be those people in politics and in business with a massive sense of entitlement, who see a new devolved authority as an opportunity to exercise and impose their views and their decisions on communities, without proper public scrutiny or democratic accountability. I will give you one current example, the fiasco over what was known as the Hilton Arena Hotel project in Leeds, (although it had nothing at all to do with Hilton Hotels). I was able to reveal the web of secrecy surrounding the loan given by the Local Enterprise Partnership, and held by Leeds City Council, and highlight the fact that this loan to a now defunct company is going to cost the taxpayers approaching £5 million. The fact that I had to resort to a Freedom of Information request to obtain this information underlines the fact that we want devolution, but we also need proper accountability, transparency and democratic decision making.