Yorkshire councils have submitted a list of ‘asks’ to the Government following renewed calls for an elected mayor. Neil Hudson examines the 27-point wishlist
Yorkshire stands on the brink of gaining sweeping powers over transport, education and taxation if the Government agrees to a list of 27 “asks” submitted by the leaders of its combined councils.
In an exclusive interview with the Yorkshire Post, leader of Leeds City Council Councillor Judith Blake said she would be “very disappointed” if Chancellor George Osborne did not agree to the wishlist submitted in response to his demand that devolution be tied to the region electing a mayor.
Despite having personal reservations about elected mayors, Coun Blake said “that is the offer on the table.”
Asked whether she thought a Yorkshire mayor was likely, she refused to be drawn but did say: “We would be very disappointed if we don’t get the powers we are asking for.”
The ‘asks’ include new powers to control transport budgets and Tom Riordan, chief executive of Leeds City Council said that would mean decisions over projects like Supertram, the flaship transport project which cost tens of millions of pound but was eventually shelved by the Government, could be taken “within one year instead of ten.”
The full lists of ‘asks’ is published today on the Yorkshire Post website and we’d like to hear what you think.
The combined 22 Yorkshire local authorities would also want new powers to take over control of bus services in Yorkshire, implementing a London-style regime wherein councils would dictate routes, frequency and fares.
The wishlist even hints that Yorkshire could make a bid for a major transport scheme, with leaders citing London’s £14bn Crossrail project as a future funding model.
One of the ‘asks’ demands: “Powers to levy a supplementary business rate to invest in major strategic infrastructure in a similar way to the London Crossrail scheme.”
But there are also measures which are bound to be controversial, including asking taxpayers to foot the bill for major projects. If councillors get their way they will be able to impose an additional levy on council tax bills to raise extra cash.
This “10-year infrastructure precept” would be exempt from council tax capping and would be used “to deliver major new investments such as a world class metro style public transport network.”
That could mean council tax payers footing the bill to fund additional transport infrastructure in readiness for HS2 and HS3 in 2030.
Coun Blake said they were also asking for powers to take over oversight of the police and courts, flood defence spending and housing budgets.”
Councils are also asking for more control over local spending, specifically asking to retain 100 per cent of all new business rates, something Coun Blake said would be “significant” is the projected economic growth of the region is realised.
Coun Blake said: “Up tp the election, Nick Glegg was saying he was going to do a deal where we did not have to have a mayor to bring down the powers, clearly none of us anticipated majority Tory government, let’s be honest but the first thing [George] Osborne did was to say he wanted to push on with devolution but the conditions for the serious powers we are asking for would be an elected mayor. The conversations we had before were for a city mayor, now it’s for a city region mayor.
“We are in the middle of negotiations at the moment - we will consider an elected mayor if and only if powers given to us are substantial to justify that change of government but the really important thing is any mayor would receive powers coming down from Westminster and not coming up from the local authorities.”
She added: “The difficulty is the speed with which the Government wants us to move. Personally I’m not in favour of directly elected mayors but that’s the offer on the table, if it means we have power over our own destiny and we have fiscal control...
“The potential prize on offer is huge, if we are able to grow this economy as we want to, to attract the businesses and investment.”
Yorkshire has an economic output of around £56bn, larger than Wales, it is the largest financial centre outside London, with 27m visitors a year, 400,000 of those from overseas.
Coun Blake cited several key projects which would help make the Yorkshire side of the Northern Powerhouse become a reality, including the new south entrance to Leeds Train Station, the planned HS2 and HS3 terminals and a new link road to Leeds-Bradford Airport.
But she went further and said talks were already ongoing to attract a “bespoke leisure attraction along the lines of Legoland”, a new conference centre for Leeds and the re-branding of West Yorkshire Playhouse to co-incide with a multi-million pound refurbishment.
Another strand of development would be to create a new economic hub around Leeds-Bradford Airport. And there will be a new park and ride centre in East Leeds.
Coun Blake said: “Not only is Leeds good at hiding its light under a bushel, it’s good a hiding the bushel as well. It’s about making sure we get the marketing right - there’s enormous pride in Leeds. People are immensely proud of where they come from. We are the greenest city in the country, it’s a great place to live, to bring up a family, to work. We want to be able to put things in place to retain more graduates and we’re already doing that.
“HS2 coming here is a big one. If you think about Leon, where you have Eurostar, that’s a big deal but the bigger deal is it becomes a hub that serves that whole part of Europe. It’s essential we have good links to York, Bradford and Huddersfield. That’s why the pausing of the electrification of the Trans-Pennine route [a project recently shelved by the Government] has caused such a furore, because it’s an integral part of the broader development of the city. It’s about reliability, speed and capacity. That’s why we want those powers.”
She added, however, that any elected mayor for Yorkshire would head up a cabinet comprised of council leaders.
“In Manchester, the cabinet have a two-thirds veto, meaning if they do not like a certain plan, they can overrule the mayor - we would also want that.
“As a ward councillor I have people coming saying even if they get a job, the bus they need doesn’t turn up. Devolution is not just coming down on umbrella level, it has to go into communities to address things like transport. This has a direct effect on jobs and then investment.
“If we get approval for NGT Trolleybus, it would run right through the middle of it. Part of the ambition for the devolution deal is to get more power over transport.
“We have been waiting for years about NGT already, we had the same thing with Supertram, it’s deeply frustrating - it’s factors like this which are driving out ambition to have more control.”
THE LIST OF ‘ASKS’
Summary Leeds City Region Devolution Asks
Control of a 10-year infrastructure precept, which is exempt from the Council Tax capping regime to deliver major new investments such as a world class metro style public transport network that is HS2 and HS3 ready. The ability to raise our own finances has been reinforced by the recent postponement of the electrification on the Transpennine rail route (the ability to generate local investment finance for infrastructure has been discussed since the City Deal and at that time was linked to a potential change in governance beyond Combined Authorities).
Responsibility for a devolved and consolidated transport budget, with a multi-year settlement to be agreed at Spending Reviews.
Enterprise Zone / Tax Increment Financing status for major developments at growth areas around principal transport hubs, including Leeds South Bank, York Central, Bradford City Centre, Wakefield, Huddersfield and Halifax, as well as any new wider area based Enterprise Zones that may be established in areas such as in the Colne Valley, Dewsbury and Harrogate.
Responsibility for franchised bus services (subject to the Buses Bill) to secure access to ‘fare box’ revenues, and for integrating simple smart ticketing across all local modes of transport.
Devolved ownership of local rail stations, with associated maintenance budgets.
Devolved powers, responsibility and maintenance budgets for a locally defined strategic highways network (including initially the M621 and M606), including new traffic management powers such as moving traffic enforcement.
A Memorandum of Understanding with the Highways Agency with regards to traffic management and emergency management on the M62.
Responsibility for managing European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) in the same way as London.
Responsibility for a strategic infrastructure investment plan to direct infrastructure investment priorities which will provide long term confidence to those wishing to invest in the City Region.
Control of a new £500+ million LCR Housing and Regeneration Investment Fund, including a fiscally neutral transferred £350m revolving loan facility.
To be the Governments delivery agency (potentially via a Land Commission arrangement similar to London) to ensure assets are used and disposed of in a way that supports growth and regeneration, to include local assets, such as those belonging to HCA, Network Rail, Highways England, NHS; and other Public Assets not currently controlled by the HCA.
Powers to incentivise developers to bring forward strategic sites and prevent land banking; and to bring empty listed building back into use.
To adopt the powers of the Police and Crime Commissioner and explore potential oversight of other blue light and Criminal Justice services including the Courts and Probation to support interoperability and protect the frontline.
Retention of 100% of the local growth in business rates.
Powers to levy a Supplementary Business Rate to invest in major strategic infrastructure in a similar way to the London Crossrail scheme.
Responsibility for regional education advisory services, innovation funds for kinship care, family group conferencing and multi-agency interventions to put children and young people at the heart of the economic growth strategy.
Powers to drive the improvement of careers advice and schools and for local authorities to intervene in failing academy schools deemed by Ofsted to be failing.
Control of Further Education (FE) capital and revenue budgets (including 16-18 provision) and powers to reshape and re-structure local appropriate skills provision that is responsive to the needs of employers, including giving priority for a new National College facility and the approval and development of new vocational education facilities.
Devolved budgets for employer-led skills investment, to allow our joined up skills brokerage service to help more employers offer Apprenticeships.
Responsibility for devolved and integrated business support budgets, building on the LEP’s growth hub, including the resources for Growth Accelerator, Manufacturing Advice Service (MAS), Innovate UK and UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) Export Advice. Joint responsibility for HEFCE investment in local economic partnership activity in Higher Education (HE) including HE Catalyst, knowledge exchange (HEIF). This will build on the Memorandum of Understanding already in place with the City Region Universities.
Allocation of a significant share of national investment for global R&D facilities on a par with the Crick Institute, to accelerate our Northern Powerhouse research and SME commercial strengths in digital health innovation and innovative manufacturing; work with the City Region to relocate a Research Council to our area.
Secure ring fenced UKTI resource on inward investment and sector specialists, and deliver culture, arts and tourism through oversight of devolved funding held by Arts Council England and Heritage Lottery Fund.
Responsibility for budgets, including DCMS/BDUK, to deliver ultrafast broadband connectivity and further develop the market beyond that provided by BT.
Control of a programme that extends the successful Troubled Families model of joined-up public services to other high cost groups like people with complex needs such as drug dependency, worklessness and mental health.
Devolve DWP national programmes and budgets targeted at addressing worklessness (currently the Work Programme).
Responsibility for local energy generation and efficiency.
Responsibility for flood defence capital investment through devolved DEFRA and Environment Agency powers and budgets.