Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry pledges '100 per cent devolution' in Yorkshire after Queen's Speech

Every single area of the North will have devolved powers if new government legislation announced in Boris Johnson's first Queen's speech goes ahead.

Tuesday, 15th October 2019, 10:37 am
Updated Tuesday, 15th October 2019, 11:37 am
Jake Berry, Minister of State (Minister for the Northern Powerhouse and Local Growth) speaks on a panel discussion on the second day of the Conservative Party Conference at Manchester Central on September 30. Photo: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

In a speech described by opposition leaders as a pre-election stunt, the State Opening of Parliament in Westminster yesterday saw the Government make promises to "unleash regional potential" and suggest that franchises on the railways may be scrapped as early as next year.

Despite 26 Bills being announced in the Queen's Speech and various proposals, with no Commons majority, it is questionable how much of the proposed legislation Ministers can get through Parliament before a general election.

And there is a major question mark over whether MPs will pass the legislative programme, which will go to a vote after several days of debate.

Giving her speech in the House of Lords, the monarch said a White Paper would be published setting out its ambitions for devolution "and to enable decisions that affect local people to be made at a local level”.

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This would detail the “levelling up” agenda Boris Johnson announced in Rotherham last month, where he committed to devolution deals for Leeds and West Yorkshire, leaving the door open for a potential One Yorkshire deal in the future handing powers to a region-wide mayor.

And speaking afterwards Jake Berry, Northern Powerhouse Minister, said: “The new White Paper will set out our ambitious plan to achieve 100 per cent devolution in the North of England, meaning we will create more mayors, and give more powers to existing mayors.”

He added: “We are already working with local leaders in West Yorkshire to agree an ambitious devolution deal, but we want to start conversations with other areas in the North too.”

But Lord Kirkhope, Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary on One Yorkshire, said local leaders backing a region-wide deal would be "a little unclear" about the Queen's words.

He said: “It is now pretty certain that the Leeds City Region support and finance will be renewed and that further power will be given to the Sheffield devolution arrangements but our wishes that by 2022 we will be moving to a wider regional devolution have not yet been approved by Government.”

The Queen’s Speech also suggested franchises on the railways may be scrapped as early as next year.

The Government will publish a White Paper soon after the publication of the Williams Review, a root and branch report into the railways which is not due to report back until later this year.One of the focuses of the White Paper will be a new industry structure which would reduce fragmentation, as well as a new commercial model. Reforms could start as early as 2020.

Boris Johnson hinted as the outcome of the review in September when he announced plans to give northern leaders more of a say on how the railway is run across the region. This was based on the initial conclusions of the review which were set out in July.

Northern leaders have long called for operator Northern to be stripped of its franchise to run local services, and last year rail performance across the country hit a 10-year low.

Luke Raikes, a Senior Research Fellow at think-tank IPPR North, said: “Government’s infrastructure and rail reforms must see long overdue investment in transport , which must become accountable to the people of the North.

"Our railways should be controlled by the North’s mayors and Transport for the North. Only then can they serve the people living here”.

And Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council and West Yorkshire Combined Authority transport lead, added: “Reform of management processes alone will not fix the failings of the North’s rail network which requires major investment to address the capacity crisis we continue to face.”

After the speech, the PM was questioned on the future of HS2 amid speculation the scheme is about to be shortened, scrapped or slowed down.

The Independent Group for Change's Anna Soubry asked if Mr Johnson had "given up" on the 2B section of the high speed rail project connecting Birmingham and Leeds.

Mr Johnson replied: "She knows there is a review going on of HS2 but this is a government that will be conducting the biggest infrastructure revolution of our times... I suggest that she... contains her impatience until the Chancellor unveils his budget on November 6."

But he added she should wait "until the Chancellor unveils his budget on November 6".

Ken Clarke, MP for Rushcliffe, also questioned the PM and the project and said he says he hoped he did not make any promises over its fate during his leadership campaign.

He asked Mr Johnson to ensure the review gives "careful consideration" to the economic impact "if the whole project were abandoned".