Emeritus Professor of Politics and Research Fellow
Together with the University’s Dr Georgina Blakeley (pictured below) they explain what this means for the West Yorkshire region and say maybe now as a town, Huddersfield can be a key player. Instead of fearing Leeds it can get on board and by playing its cards well it could be a big gainer
“West Yorkshire city region is to be congratulated on signing a very belated deal with the Government to set up a Combined Authority with a directly elected metro mayor. This has been accomplished this week and not before time. West Yorkshire is many years behind the curve as Greater Manchester, Merseyside and a few other city regions signed up for their own deals with government and held mayoral elections three years ago.
As a result, our city region has postponed the acquisition of devolved powers and rejected the possibility of significant funds to spend in our area. Income from central government from such funding streams as the Strategic Investment Fund and the Transforming Cities fund have been withheld from us. This has caused both humour at our expense but also concern about the damage inflicted on the North of England as a whole.
It was Tory councillors in the Leeds region who blocked progress as they were concerned that there would be a permanent Labour majority on a West Yorkshire Combined Authority. Since then there has been a groundswell for ‘a dream’ of a single Yorkshire-wide Combined Authority, with an all Yorkshire Mayor. The Yorkshire-wide solution was a complete non-starter as the Government would not accept it as ministers and the Treasury were firmly attached to the idea of a city region-based devolution.
But Why? For one thing, an all Yorkshire arrangement with its 5.3 million population might have landed the country with another ‘awkward squad’ for the Government to deal with. More importantly, however, ministers were convinced by the arguments of international economists that new Combined Authorities should be based on ‘functional economic areas’ based on travel to work, employment trends and other realities. This was the theory of agglomeration economics that bigger units based on the idea that a larger population base is required to promote meaningful economic strategy and transport planning while also attracting inward investors.
But, Yorkshire knew best apparently, and with a lack of political realism pressed for an all Yorkshire structure. Government rejects the idea that Yorkshire is a brand and consider that the cities of Leeds and Manchester are known entities in China. David Cameron was so irked by the feet dragging in Yorkshire that he was overheard to state: “I always knew that Yorkshire people hated everybody else but now I’ve learnt that they all hate each other just as much.” He felt that if Mancunians, Liverpudlians and Bristolians could merge their differences and work together for a wider good, then why not people in the Leeds area?
It is true that many in Yorkshire consider that the Government is just transferring responsibility and not real money and real powers so that local politicians can be stigmatised as the culprits for austerity. Yet, in Greater Manchester, the leaders decided that even with austerity, they would prefer to manage the consequences for themselves rather than have it imposed from Whitehall. They argue that local leaders know and care much more about what is required.
We should be pleased that at last the logjam has been broken. There is never an ideal time for a new initiative such as this, and the proposal is imperfect. The main consideration should be that the UK is massively over-centralised and this is likely to be the only opportunity to wrest some local and regional control from London. Once the genie of urban devolution is out of the bottle the chance should be seized. The city regions can proceed incrementally and use the initiative to ask for more powers and resources.
Finally, the University will benefit from the Leeds city region as it will become one of the new Anchor Institutions and like the Universities in the other currently devolved city regions, gain from research and consultancy activities. Equally, as a town, Huddersfield can be a key player. Instead of fearing Leeds it can get on board and by playing its cards well be a big gainer from the new West Yorkshire Combined Authority.”
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