Vision for the future: What powers could a '˜One Yorkshire' mayor have?
For many months, it has been the subject of intense discussion and debate in the region's town halls as well as the corridors of power in Whitehall and Westminster.
And now, three years after then-Chancellor George Osborne promised to hand over wide-ranging powers and funding in a bid to break the stranglehold of central government on local affairs, a devolution deal for Yorkshire appears closer than ever.
On Monday, 18 of the region’s council leaders submitted a “detailed and concrete proposal” to Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid about what the transfer of powers and funding to a Yorkshire mayor and combined authority would look like.
Previously hostile Ministers appear to be softening their stance on such a move, with a source close to discussions on the Government side saying last week that “our door is always open”.
The most detailed plan to be put into the public domain so far, the 10-page document was a response to Mr Javid’s request for more meat on the bones after being presented with a nearly united front from Yorkshire’s politicians at a meeting last week.
It spells out the specific areas where Yorkshire would take control of its own affairs as well as painting a picture of the benefits of a region-wide agreement to the region itself and the country at large.
Describing Yorkshire devolution as a historic opportunity for the whole country, the dossier argues that the scale of a deal covering a population the same size as Scotland will help tackle the UK’s lop-sided spread of wealth and its relatively poor productivity compared with many other areas of the world.
Setting out the goal of making Yorkshire’s diverse region of 5.3 million people a net contributor to the public purse, the document details plans for a Yorkshire Industrial Strategy providing “a compelling basis for government and business investment”.
A major strand would be the creation of an investment fund worth more than £3.75bn over 30 years, funded in part by a ‘gainshare revenue stream’ agreement where the Government provides £125m a year in return for accountability about how it is spent.
If agreed by the Government and local leaders, an incoming Yorkshire mayor could also potentially have the option of increasing business rates, up to a certain level and with the smallest firms excluded, to pay for major infrastructure projects. Skills funding for adults would be devolved to the mayor, meaning they could respond to local needs.
The new mayor would also have responsibility for franchised bus services, as Transport for London does in the capital, meaning in theory that integrated smart ticketing could be introduced more easily region-wide.
The document describes enhanced compulsory purchase powers and the creation of mayoral development corporations which could help make better use of key sites, such as the surplus land held at Catterick Garrison.
Sticking points remain if the plan is to be brought to fruition, not least the issue of how the authority would work with its counterpart in South Yorkshire, whose virtually powerless new mayor will be elected this May.
But as the document sets out, the stakes couldn’t be higher. “The prolonged absence of a devolution agreement for Yorkshire would not only deprive our communities of opportunities open to other parts of the country but would also be a major obstacle to achieving national growth ambitions at a pivotal moment for the UK economy”. it says. “The Northern Powerhouse will remain incomplete until a thriving Yorkshire enjoying devolved powers and budgets is at its heart.”
Elections for Yorkshire’s mayor would take place in May 2020, with the powerful new figure supported by a decision-making combined authority cabinet of leaders.
With the principle that powers ought to be devolved to the most local level where possible, area committees will be set up to carry out some work.
Leaders have already agreed to set up a ‘shadow board’ to ease the transition into the new arrangements. This new body would get new funding and responsibilities as early as next year. The document says: “There is no intention to take existing powers from local authorities...without agreement.”