LEEDS must find its voice in Europe, and be given more autonomy and influence to bid for vital EU funding when it becomes available.
As momentum grows for greater devolved powers for Britain’s regions, a Leeds City Council panel is putting together its own ideas of how to better bang the city’s drum in the EU.
A special debate at Leeds Civic Hall yesterday heard that Leeds plays a major role in the almost £7bn of annual exports from Yorkshire which go to the EU, with 363,000 jobs in the region also depending on our trade with the continent.
However since the disbanding of regional development agency Yorkshire Forward, and a real lack of other regional infrastructure, “it is often felt the regional voice is now missing”.
On the same day that David Cameron and George Osborne were in the city laying out their plans for the HS3 rail link, the panel discussed ways of returning more power to local authorities and moving away from the iron grip of Whitehall.
Forging a stronger independent regional voice in Europe was seen as a key part of that process.
The panel posed a series of questions to invited guest and Yorkshire MEP Richard Corbett, including how councillors and the council could be more involved in the city’s European role.
Panel chair councillor Pauleen Grahame said it was about trying to “clear the fog” of the European parliament,.
Mr Corbett was quizzed on how the city can help shape and influence regional policy without any regional infrastructure, and the need for the city to forge its own personal relationships to “take maximum advantage of European funding when it becomes available”.
Discussion also focused on better partnership working between the council and the local economic partnership - LEP - which Mr Corbett said was “supposed to come up with ideas and projects but they still have to be signed off by Central Government”.
Panel members said there was a sense of a “democratic deficit” in the way the LEP operates.
“They are supposed to involve local councils, and the way forward is to strengthen that role”, the panel was told.