Yorkshire was presenting a united front on devolution today after an 18th council leader came out in support of a region-wide deal.
Wakefield Council leader Peter Box, who until now has declined to publicly back a ‘One Yorkshire’ solution, told The Yorkshire Post he would work to reach a historic agreement by 2020.
He said he had changed his position, despite preferring a more limited ‘city region’ devolution model, because of government attempts to use perceived differences between local leaders as an excuse not to hand over vital powers and funding.
It means that of the 20 local councils in Yorkshire only Sheffield and Rotherham, who have already reached their own agreement with Ministers, do not now support a devolution deal on the widest possible geography.
Earlier this month, the leaders of Barnsley, Bradford, Calderdale, Craven, Doncaster, East Riding of Yorkshire, Hambleton, Harrogate, Hull, Kirklees, Leeds, North Yorkshire, Richmondshire, Ryedale, Scarborough, Selby and York councils reaffirmed their support for a One Yorkshire deal.
The Government has previously said it would not support any agreement that undermined the Sheffield City Region devolution deal, which was signed in 2015 but has yet to be implemented.
I am totally committed to getting the best deal for Wakefield, the wider region and its residents.Wakefield Council leader Peter Box
In a statement released exclusively to The Yorkshire Post, Coun Box, a former chairman of the Yorkshire and Humber Regional Assembly, said a ‘coalition of the united’ had the best chance of “transforming our region and making a real difference to the lives of those people we are privileged to represent”.
He said: “I believe that a city region devolution model had the potential to deliver the biggest growth in the shortest time for Wakefield.
“It’s clear that the overwhelming majority of councils believe that growth can be delivered on a wider Yorkshire geography. At the end of the day though, we all want an ambitious devolution deal.
“Over the last few weeks it’s become apparent that the government will use any difference between us over the best model of delivery as a reason for not devolving any of the powers and resources that we need to deliver our shared ambitions. That cannot and must not be allowed to happen.
“As someone who chaired the Yorkshire and Humber Regional Assembly for almost 10 years I am totally committed to getting the best deal for Wakefield, the wider region and its residents.
“I will therefore be putting my full support behind the One Yorkshire proposal and will work closely with colleagues across the county to try and ensure that we have a deal in place by 2020.
“I will be working to make sure that we get a deal which matches Wakefield’s ambition, has a strong sub-regional element and ensures that any bureaucracy and red tape is kept to a minimum.”
His intervention comes as leaders in South Yorkshire attempt to reach an agreement over the devolution deal they signed in 2015 which handed over £900m in funding and a host of crucial powers from Whitehall.
Barnsley and Doncaster, who pulled out of the agreement last year in favour of a One Yorkshire deal, say they would rejoin if they are able to take part in a region-wide agreement from 2020.
Rotherham and Sheffield councils have now revealed they are willing for the Sheffield City Region mayor, who will take up their post this May, to serve only a two-year term to allow this to happen.
Coun Box, who has led Wakefield Council since 1998, said he hoped the Government would “see sense” and allow the interim Sheffield City Region mayor to be appointed, saving the “wholly unnecessary” £2m cost of an election.
He said: “An interim mayor is clearly the most appropriate option in the present circumstances.”
A Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government spokeswoman, said: “We have always said we would welcome discussions on a widely-supported greater Yorkshire devolution deal provided the Sheffield City Region deal was not threatened.
“The election for the South Yorkshire Mayor has received legislative approval by Parliament and will take place in May 2018.”