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West Yorks leader demands clarity over ‘devolution-ready’ Leeds region

A West Yorkshire leader has demanded that devolution proposals for the Leeds City Region be ‘clarified’ and reignited by communities secretary Sajid Javid after plans submitted 18 months ago were not acted upon.

In a letter to Javid penned by Cllr Peter Box, he appealed for the deal to be reignited, arguing the region was “devolution-ready”: it first agreed a city deal in 2012, established the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) in 2014 and secured a first-stage devo deal in 2015, all of which placed it “at the vanguard of collaborative working”.

Cllr Box also stated that securing devolved powers and budgets from Whitehall “remains of the greatest significance” to the area, and would ensure that the levers for economic growth would be put back into the hands of local people and places in the Leeds city-region.

Overall, a successful deal for the region could mean an additional £3.7bn GVA per annum and create an extra 37,500 new jobs, the combined authority claimed.

A draft deal was put together in March 2016, but no further progress has been made on the deal since.

The letter outlined the “compelling evidence” pointing to the logic of such a deal, adding: “Our city-region is in fact the country’s largest such area outside of Greater London, and the benefits of devolving to this area are clear – our devolved skills, employment and business growth programmes are delivering at twice the impact and three times the speed of equivalent national programmes.”

He also wrote about the strong business identity associated with Leeds’s “polycentric geography” involving the key cities of Bradford, York, Wakefield and Huddersfield and Halifax, which encompasses a population of 2.8 million people with a 92.7% self-contained labour market.

“Government’s agreement to the principle of a good deal for the people and businesses of our city-region would be entirely in the spirit of those being progressed in other parts of the country which are also based on recognised FEMAs [functional economic market areas].  Please could you therefore confirm, or otherwise, that government is prepared to progress a deal for our city-region?” the councillor asked.

Cllr Box also proposed a wider devolution deal that would involve a larger West Yorkshire devo plan, adding: “In the event that government is unable to support a city-region deal, WYCA has also resolved to explore with authorities and stakeholders the options based on a larger geographic footprint, including a Yorkshire deal.”

Late last month, WYCA also decided to bite the bullet on its mayoral stance and floated two pan-Yorkshire devolution models, both of which would be captained by a mayor. The first model would take the form of a single mayoral combined authority covering the entirety of Yorkshire, whilst the second would include multiple combined authorities with a single elected mayor.

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