Some people are never satisfied. On Wednesday, chancellor George Osborne confirmed that the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA; metropolitan Leeds, basically) was going to get its own dose of devolution (yay!). Now the people in charge of that city region are going round saying the deal was, basically, a bit rubbish (boo).
Here’s Peter Box, the Wakefield councillor who chairs the WYCA:
The deal is disappointing and doesn’t match the scale of our ambition. It undermines the government’s claim to want a strong Northern powerhouse. If we are to turn that into a reality we need real devolution, including fiscal devolution, to enable us to bring about a step change in the City Region’s economy.
And here’s councillor Keith Wakefield, the leader of Leeds City council (yes, that is his name, we checked):
This does not match our ambitions for the people of Leeds and the city region. We were promised by the deputy prime minister that there would be no strings attached in relation to governance models so we are disappointed by the lack of devolution on transport and housing investment powers.
This miserable response to ostensibly good news might in part reflect the fact that there’s an election looming: both Wakefield and Box are Labour members. But that didn’t stop Greater Manchester’s Labour-dominated councils from waxing lyrical about how wonderful George Osborne had been for the region (something that apparently annoyed the Westminster Labour party no end), so there’s clearly something else going on.
Actually, it likely reflects the toothlessness of the settlement on offer. The deal, engineered largely by deputy prime minister and Yorkshire MP Nick Clegg, includes a bigger role for the city over skills funding and business support. It also includes a “different working relationship” with bodies including the Homes and Communities Agency, Highways England and Network Rail.
It’s not that there are strings attached, particularly, it’s just that there’s not all that much there to attach them to
What this means is that the city will be able to play a bigger role in the planning of local transport and housing policies. But it’ll still be forced to work with other, central government agencies, rather than determining them singlehandedly. And what it definitely can’t do is raise its own tax base to spend as it sees fit.
It’s not that there are strings attached, particularly, it’s just that there’s not all that much there to attach them to. So, Leeds’ boss Wakefield (yes, we’re still enjoying that) doesn’t think this is good enough to make up for, well, everything else the government has done:
…it is no compensation for the £470m of cuts that our councils have had to deliver and it falls far short of our ambition to shape our own economic destiny and create the 62,000 jobs that the people and businesses of Leeds and the city region need.
Basically, despite Clegg’s promises, Leeds is finding that it’s still looking longingly across the Pennines at a city which really is being given control of its own destiny. Looks like Manchester is about to switch from being one of those cities that looks resentfully at London, to one of those cities all the others resent.
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