Leeds City Council Leader Councillor Judith Blake has issued a forthright challenge to the government to back its announcement of progress on devolution with strong action.
As Chancellor George Osborne announced in his budget speech today that a deal is being worked towards with Leeds, West Yorkshire and partner authorities, Cllr Blake responded that it will only be acceptable if a full package of wide-ranging local powers, along with funding, come with it.
Leeds 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 Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council, said:
“There is now no doubt that Leeds is an ambitious city that deserves more local control over its own affairs. We are a city that has one of the strongest economies in the country, but the scale of centralisation in this country means we are 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 Leeds. Just one recent example of this was the fiasco over the Transpennine rail link.
“We have more than proved that we can deliver better results locally, as seen with our Devolved Youth Contract where 8 out of 10 young people progressed into work or training, compared to 3 out of 10 on the equivalent national scheme.
“It’s clear that the Government wants to force local areas to accept an elected mayor as the price of the deal, but before that can be considered there has to be a much better understanding of what will be devolved.”
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 devolution of those powers.
While Leeds 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 the budget statement, the wording of which has been agreed with Leeds 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 Blake continued:
“We have an unprecedented opportunity here to drive our future development in ways that really make a difference to people’s lives, whatever their circumstances. I look forward to discussing with a range of partners over the summer how we secure the best possible deal.”
She stressed that the “asks” are crucial to empowering local authorities in the area to unleash the economic potential and tackle the challenges for what could be one of the UK’s most successful regions. All of them require full local control and funding.
Notes to editors:
According to a report published by the Centre for Cities independent economic think tank group this week, only 9p on average of every pound of tax raised locally is retained for use locally. The rest is returned to the Exchequer. It also says that supporting the Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham city region areas to perform at their full potential in line with the national average could make an extra £9.4 billion a year in taxes.
Further information on the findings can be found here: Mapping Britain's public finances
For media enquiries please contact:
Donna Cox, Leeds City Council press office (0113) 224 3335