Government challenged to match Wakefield’s ambition with devolution deal
08 July 2015
Wakefield Council Leader Councillor Peter Box CBE has issued a strong challenge to the Government to back its announcement of progress on devolution with strong action.
Chancellor George Osborne announced in his budget speech today that a deal is being worked towards with West Yorkshire and partner authorities.
Cllr Box said that this will only be acceptable if a full package of wide-ranging local powers, along with funding, come with it.
Wakefield and its partner authorities have issued the Chancellor with a comprehensive list of ‘asks’ seeking full local control over both funding and decision-making in a number of areas currently controlled by government.
They cover themes such as transport, roads management, infrastructure and regeneration funding through some fiscal devolution, education and skills training, economic development and the environment and culture.
Councillor Box said: "We currently have the 30th largest economy in the UK and we need more local control over our own affairs so we can create more jobs and continue to grow our economy
“We have made it clear to the Government that we are hugely ambitious and our list of “asks” matches that ambition. If the Chancellor is serious about putting the power into the Northern Powerhouse then he will agree to us getting additional powers.
“Yet the scale of centralisation in this country means we are still held back by decisions taken in Whitehall that should be taken locally, by people who have the local knowledge needed to deliver much better outcomes for this district. Just one recent example of this was the fiasco over the Transpennine rail link.”
After weeks of negotiations between the area’s local authorities and the Government, Mr Osborne announced that “significant additional powers” could be handed over to the Leeds City Region area. In return, the Government wants agreement in principle that an elected mayor for the wider area will work with local leaders to oversee the of those powers.
While Wakefield rejected the idea of an elected mayor for the city in a referendum three years ago, the joint leaders of all the partner authorities have been asked to look at how working with a ‘metro’ mayor to represent them would help smooth the handover of government-held functions to local councils. This is an area still to be agreed on.
Mr Osborne told Parliament in his budget statement, the wording of which has been agreed with Wakefield, West Yorkshire and its partner authorities:
“The government is working towards further devolution deals with the Sheffield City Region, Liverpool City Region, and Leeds, West Yorkshire and partner authorities, to be agreed in parallel to the Spending Review.
“If agreement is reached, including on an elected mayor working with local leaders to oversee new powers devolved from ministers, these city regions will be granted significant additional powers and the opportunity to take control of their own affairs to support economic growth.”
Cllr Box added: "This Budget statement is an unprecedented opportunity to drive our future development in ways that really make a difference to people’s lives, whatever their circumstances. What we are asking for will unleash economic potential and meet challenges to make the Leeds City Region one of the UK’s most successful regions.
“I look forward to discussing with a range of partners over the summer how we secure the best possible deal."