Renewed drive towards a post-Brexit devolution deal for Leeds and Yorkshire

Coun Judith Blake.
Coun Judith Blake.
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A “coalition of the willing” spearheaded by Leeds will today make a renewed bid to end the long-running deadlock over a Yorkshire devolution deal – with or without an elected Mayor.

Representatives from most of the region’s councils will gather in York today (Friday) as part of the latest attempt to generate support for the idea of a single devolution agreement covering the whole of the region and the likely election of a Yorkshire mayor.

The renewed push for a post-Brexit devolution deal aims to champion the Yorkshire brand on a global scale and generate billions of pounds for the economy.

“The Yorkshire model is ambitious to provide England’s biggest county with greater control over its own destiny”, a report commissioned ahead of today’s crunch meeting, and exclusively seen by the YEP, says. “Yorkshire’s towns and cities would be transformed post-Brexit to the benefit of all its communities.”

The latest push for autonomy will also aim to bring Hull into the new partnership, with the hope of “unlocking the potential of the Yorkshire coast” and opening up increased opportunities of localised post-Brexit trade with China and America.

The document sets out two possible models for Yorkshire-wide devolution – the elected Yorkshire Mayor or a cabinet of Yorkshire council leaders at the top. But it also seeks to placate those who argue that devolution should be focused on smaller areas by setting plans for significant powers to be retained at a ‘sub-regional’ level.

Councillor Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said ahead of today’s meeting: “I am confident that we can move forward and get a devolution deal over the line.”

She added the recent transport deal for the North has given city leaders a renewed “appetite for more collaboration”.

Coun Blake acknowledged that the geography of the region had been a major “sticking point” in the past - but hopes are high that a resolution can be found.

Keith Wakefield, who chairs the transport executive on West Yorkshire Combined Authority, stressed that devolution and an elected Mayor are “two different things”. He said the renewed devolution drive represented “the biggest opportunity for decades” and “we are all enthusiastic”.

Tom Riordan, chief executive of Leeds City Council, said there was currently a list of about 23 issues in an initial list of “key asks” the cit would want from a regional devolution deal.

Many of these fall under broader themes of transport, housing, skills and investment.

He said previous efforts at a deal had “stalled” not because of any individual demands, but because of “the geography of devolution”.

And he stressed: “I am hopeful that we will eventually get a deal and reap the rewards in the future.”

‘DON’T BE SEDUCED BY THE RAZZAMATAZZ OF AN ELECTED MAYOR’

AN influential cross-party panel in Leeds has heard that the city’s leaders should not be “seduced” by the idea of having an elected Mayor.

The comments were made at a meeting of a cross-party Leeds City Council watchdog panel.

Labour councillor John Illingworth told colleagues that the city “can do a corking job” if it has increased decision-making powers in areas such as health and prisoner rehabilitation among others.

“Those are all things that I would have on the long list,” he said of the city’s ultimate wish-list of devolved powers.

“I agree that we need to get on with this.

“But I don’t want to be saddled with a Mayor. Mayors will come and go, but fundamentally the democratic committee system is a pretty good way of running things.

“We should always be ambitious. But we shouldn’t be seduced by the razzamatazz of a Mayoral administration.”

Meanwhile Lib Dem councillor Sandy Lay asked if there was a point where Leeds - as the third largest city in the country - could and would say “enough is enough” if the deadlock continued.

“Is there going to be a point where we say we are going to have to move forward on our own? And with other like-minded partners?” he said.

Conservative councillor Alan Lamb, who chairs the panel, said: “One thing is very clear - there will not be any deal that doesn’t have Leeds as part of it.”

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