Devolution debate: ‘We love Leeds and we know its needs’

FOCUSED: Coun Judith Blake.
FOCUSED: Coun Judith Blake.
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Leeds council’s leader today pledged to ensure the city gets the best possible outcomes from any new pan-Yorkshire devolution deal – and urged Whitehall to help the region’s local authorities get back to the basics of local decision-making.

Judith Blake was speaking on Yorkshire Day, as a new “coalition of the willing” of Yorkshire authorities laid out their ambitious blueprint for a superconnected county.

The new devolution masterplan pitches Leeds as the potential economic powerhouse at the centre of a thriving, cohesive, regional economy. The revived ‘One Yorkshire’ plan stresses that “turbo-charging the strengths of Leeds in digital technology and healthcare, added to its financial and retail sectors would establish it in the ‘Champions League’ of service-based city economies”.

Coun Blake told the YEP that any revised deal that does get approved will be about fulfilling “a real desire to have more powers so we can actually respond to local needs”. But she added it was also about building on previous good work already started by the Leeds City Region LEP (local economic partnership) which has previously been “frustrated” by Government conditions.

“We have already got the biggest growth deal in the country with the Leeds City Region,” she said. “Unfortunately the legislation, the way it is framed, was based on the Greater Manchester footprint, which they have been working on for 20 years. But it just didn’t work for Yorkshire.

“The really exciting thing now is that so many of us are rising above those difficulties, and it means we can work together to put forward a bigger deal to Government.”

She said that for Leeds itself, key focuses for devolved powers would be having more autonomy with the transport budget, especially bus services in the wake of new franchising regulation.

“The Buses Bill made it clear that you had to have a mayor to be able to devolve those powers down,” she said.

The creation of a new investment fund for housing, regeneration and planning would also be a priority for Leeds, she said, and improving prospects for young people by building on existing careers and skills initiatives was vital.

Coun Blake said cutting out unnecessary Whitehall red tape and “those petty details” was a key driver in helping the council “better manage at a local level”.

“We want to unlock the potential that we have got in Leeds and then work with colleagues across the region so we have coherent work on the biggest issues,” she said.