Unions claim West Yorks elected mayor will be accepted ‘through gritted teeth’

Unions have claimed West Yorkshire will have to accept an elected mayor “through gritted teeth” in order to get much-needed government funding.

Friday, 21st August 2020, 4:56 pm

The statement, by a Yorkshire and Humber TUC committee, was revealed in the results of a survey by pollsters Ipsos Mori, who were commissioned to carry out consultation on plans for a new West Yorkshire mayoral authority, announced in March.

The document added the majority of the 4,000 people surveyed in West Yorkshire supported plans to create a mayoral authority.

It follows the announcement of a deal back in March between the government and West Yorkshire councils to allow the region to have its own elected mayor, as well as an extra £32m of spending power each year.

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Leeds is set to become part of the West Yorkshire mayoral authority next year.

The deal is expected to see an elected mayor covering Leeds, Wakefield, Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees, from May 2021, when the first Mayor of West Yorkshire is set to be elected.

Of the “stakeholders” contacted, Yorkshire’s universities welcomed the arrangements, claiming it could help “address socio-economic opportunities that have been amplified by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The survey also saw positive feedback from organisations such as City of York Council, West Yorkshire Police, and bus companies.

However, not everybody was happy with the arrangements – a Leeds City Council scrutiny board asked for a firmer commitment that “experienced and skilled staff” would be able to help scrutinise the decisions of the mayor’s office.

Yorkshire and The Humber TUC’s creative and leisure industries committee went further, calling the plans “galling”, and that the plans would not wash away years of government austerity.

The correspondence, quoted in Ipsos Mori’s report, stated: “There has been opposition to the creation of elected mayors over several years.

“It is galling that this government and its predecessors having slashed local government funding as part of their austerity policies are now offering some additional West Yorkshire-wide funding but insisting that we have to accept the imposition of an Elected Mayor in order to get that funding.

“However there is some merit in obtaining this funding even if we have to bear having an elected mayor through gritted teeth to get it. So agreement to these proposals is offered with these serious reservations.”

It also called on more trade union representation within the organisation, including representatives on the Leeds Enterprise Partnership and all committees.

The initial term of mayor will be three years, after which each term will last four years, in order to fit with other UK mayoral authorities.

The mayoral authority will consist of 11 members – eight of which are voting. Of those, five voting members will be the leaders of the constituent local authorities – Bradford, Leeds, Wakefield, Calderdale and Kirklees councils – with three additional members chosen to reflect the political make-up of councils. This is likely to involve at least one Conservative, as currently all of West Yorkshire’s councils are Labour-led. The three remaining non-voting members include the mayor, as well as members nominated by City of York Council and the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership.

Police and crime commissioner functions will be transferred to the mayor, as will powers over transport, housing, planning and finance.

A report into the responses from members of the public claims 2,831 agreed with the proposals, while 894 disagreed.

The survey is set to be discussed by Leeds City Council’s executive board on September 1.

A report from Leeds City Council officers concluded: “The agreement of a devolution deal for West Yorkshire presents a significant opportunity for Leeds and the wider region to use new powers, funding and freedoms to make progress on some of our long-term shared priorities.

“The outcome of the public consultation which has been undertaken demonstrates broad and consistent support for the proposals outlined in the scheme, and supports the outcome of previous executive board decisions.”

It added that the Executive Board would meet again in November to discuss an order based on the responses, and that the council would also meet consider the next stage of the process.