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WYCA bites the bullet and floats two pan-Yorkshire mayoral devo models

The West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) is planning to propose an ambitious pan-Yorkshire devolution deal which would involve a single mayor overseeing an assembly of several combined authorities, similar to the Greater London Assembly.

The proposal being considered by the WYCA, which represents towns and cities in the Leeds City Region (LCR), comes in the wake of the LCR’s own stalled devolution deal, which has not yet been formally responded to by government despite its submission in September 2015.

It also follows the difficulties of the Sheffield City Region (SCR) in implementing its deal, with the authority revealing last week that it was likely to face costs of up to £500,000 due to its own botched devolution consultation last year.

In board papers released ahead of a meeting this Thursday, the WYCA said that a pan-Yorkshire model could make the county’s residents £583 better off each year in 10 years and lead to an economy up to £100bn larger than predicted in 30 years’ time.

“Any sustainable local governance reform linked to an ambitious devolution deal based on a larger than LCR geography must resonate with a shared sense of identity and must also promote the specific interests and priorities of local communities,” the WYCA report said.

“An ambitious, all of Yorkshire, devolution deal could for example mobilise popular community and business support, enabling local partners across the region to build on a strong shared sense of identity and purpose and individual and collective strengths and assets, and properly address our key challenges, as set out our local Strategic Economic Plans.”

The combined authority has proposed several different mayoral devolution models across a larger geographic footprint, such as South and West Yorkshire, Yorkshire except for South Yorkshire, and all of Yorkshire, depending on authorities’ willingness to get involved in the proposal.

While stressing that Sheffield’s work shouldn’t be stopped or modified in any way,  the WYCA has argued that a larger authority would help to fit economic gaps and “could lever a better deal than the sum of individual city region deals”, such as the obtainment of a “Yorkshire premium”.

“A clear mayoral remit would be key in ensuring a positive electoral response and therefore local mandate,” the paper added.

The mayor’s mandate could enable a “number of activities”, the combined authority said, such as a Yorkshire-wide focus on delivering a stronger relationship with the government, including additional devolved powers such as fiscal freedoms.

It is also hoped it could influence national Brexit policy, enable stronger input to national trade and investment strategies, help co-ordinate tourism promotion, and provide a stronger voice for Yorkshire in the Northern Powerhouse and Transport for the North.

The WYCA has considered two models for the proposal: a single mayoral CA model covering the entirety of Yorkshire, or an example of multiple CAs with a single directly-elected mayor, the authority’s preferred choice.

But the authority nevertheless cast doubt on the suitability of the single mayoral model, which it had already been fighting against for months. It argued the model would be “backward looking, harking back to former regional government and the re-creation of ‘regionalism’, which has only relatively been dismantled” – rather than engaging in “economically led city region working”.

The authority expressed preference for a multiple CAs with single mayor model, as existing CAs could simply be “slotted in” with new CAs created to cover other areas.

CAs would be represented by a joint committee ‘cabinet’ akin to the Greater London Assembly which would enable “more meaningful collaboration at regional level”, with the WYCA adding that this model would be “more likely to secure government support”.

However, the authority accepted that adopting a London-style model as part of any deal would require “a significant reform over and above establishing a directly-elected assembly”, such as the creation of secondary legislation which might provide a stumbling block to the proposal.

The WYCA has advised its members to begin discussions with authorities to “test the appetite” for a pan-Yorkshire deal in preparation for starting negotiations with government on how best the model would work.

If there is desire for the deal, the WYCA said that it would look into the “legal and administrative feasibility” of a mayoral election as early as May 2018.

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