Don't get left behind, Minister Jake Berry warns North and East Yorkshire leaders in devolution talks

Town hall leaders in Yorkshire have held talks with a Cabinet Minister to ensure they are not left behind if devolution deals are struck to hand powers to metro mayors in Leeds and Sheffield, The Yorkshire Post can reveal.

Thursday, 31st October 2019, 9:35 pm
Updated Friday, 1st November 2019, 5:45 am
Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry spoke with Yorkshire council leaders this week

Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry told council leaders in York, North Yorkshire, the East Riding and Hull that their areas could be handed powers and funding similar to those held by Greater Manchester metro mayor Andy Burnham.

“Constructive” talks have already been held over a devolution deal for West Yorkshire and there are hopes the £30m-a-year Sheffield City Region deal originally signed in 2015 will finally be implemented, ending the region’s wait to be given powers currently held by central government.

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But Mr Berry’s talks with leaders from the rest of Yorkshire – as well as other areas of the North yet to strike a deal with Ministers – saw him reassure them that Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants “rapid progress” to be made on devolution elsewhere.

The Government has previously rejected a widely-backed solution put forward by civic and business leaders for a Yorkshire-wide mayoral authority which supporters say would add £30bn a year to the region’s economy.

Ministers say Yorkshire is too big and diverse to have a devolution deal covering its entire population of 5.2 million people and prefer smaller ‘‘city region’’ deals.

Labour described yesterday’s discussions as “electioneering” ahead of the December 12 General Election, with Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office Jon Trickett accusing the Government of “shilly-shallying around with this for two or three years at least instead of getting on with it”.

The Hemsworth MP said: “There is a solution available which is a One Yorkshire solution. Instead they want bits of Yorkshire fighting over the crumbs rather than fighting together for a better Yorkshire.”

And Shadow Communities Secretary Andrew Gwynne said: “The Tories’ approach to local Government can be summed up in one word: cuts.”

Mr Berry told The Yorkshire Post: “I was building on the statement that PM made [at the Convention of the North conference]in Rotherham about levelling up all around the UK.”

On the devolution talks with Yorkshire leaders, he added: “No-one has come to this with preconceptions about what that should look like but I am pleased we are starting discussions to make sure we don’t leave any part of Yorkshire behind.”

North Yorkshire County Council’s leader Carl Les said the phone call with Mr Berry saw the Minister set out what powers and extra money would be available if a devolution deal was struck.

Extra ‘‘gainshare’’ funding of at least £20 per head of population would be available as well as powers over transport infrastructure, policing and adult education, but the deal would require an elected metro mayor.

Coun Les said: “Jake said Manchester is now on devolution deal number six, York and North Yorkshire has not even got devolution deal number one. We are falling behind. He said let’s get the General Election over with and have conversations after the election. He was encouraging us to get on with it and reiterating that the Prime Minister wants Yorkshire to benefit from devolution.”

Talks will continue at official level between now and the General Election, with further discussions on what area a devolution deal might cover expected if the Tories remain in government.

But not all of North Yorkshire’s leaders agree about how devolution should work, with Hambleton’s Mark Robson saying he would not welcome another tier of government or the move towards unitary – rather than two-tier – authorities in England’s largest county.

The Conservative councillor said: “I stand by what I said five years ago, unless the devolution deal is right for the residents of Hambleton I won’t sign up for it.”