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It’s been an eventful few days for city regions in Yorkshire. Yesterday Sheffield City Region announced that they would continue to push for a mayor but that the election would not happen until 2018. On the same day, Leeds City Region released a statement saying that though their preference was for a Leeds City Region deal, they had been “thwarted by a lack of agreement from Government”. To avoid being left behind, they are willing to work with neighbouring areas and Government to explore whether having a mayor and devolution deal for Yorkshire, underpinned by the combined authorities, would work for national and local leaders alike.
Centre for Cities has consistently agreed with the stance that Cllr Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds, took in her statement yesterday, that “Leeds City Region provides the best basis for devolution by driving growth in the fastest and fairest way and making sure everyone benefits.” On those grounds, we’ve argued strongly in favour of city region (rather than regional) deals. These are the best option – neither the Sheffield nor the Leeds City Region deals are off the table yet, and if they can be agreed then that would be the most effective way to make the most of those areas.
But we’ve also consistently argued for pragmatism and ensuring that the best is not the enemy of the good. This shift in policy from Cllr Blake suggests that, if Leeds City Region continues to struggle to agree a city region deal, it would rather have a devolution deal at the Yorkshire level which makes the most of the city regions, rather than run the risk of missing out entirely on the opportunity to have more economic decisions taken at the local level.
Over recent months it has looked entirely possible that Yorkshire city regions would indeed miss out and struggle to implement any devolution deals at all. The Sheffield City Region deal has continued to encounter hurdles associated with having a city region involving unitaries and districts, while Leeds City Region has struggled to secure a deal that works for both national and local partners. Meanwhile, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region and the West Midlands forge ahead, gaining more powers as of May 2017 and being at the front of the queue for future funding and powers.
Failing to have more decisions about skills, transport and planning made at the local level would be a huge missed opportunity for an area that includes two core cities like Leeds and Sheffield. As such, city region deals quite rightly remain the preference of local areas, and are the most accurate reflections of the local economy. But if a city region deal cannot be achieved in the short to medium term, then a shift to agreeing a region-wide deal in order to gain some powers and not get left behind other Core Cities is a good idea, provided that any county-wide deal puts city regions and powers for combined authorities at its core.
That last point is key; both Leeds and Sheffield City Regions have been clear this is not about a deal at any price, and it’s reassuring to see the emphasis Cllr Blake puts on the importance of the city regions within a Yorkshire deal in her statement. A city region deal would be best, but a county-wide devolution deal with city regions at its heart is significantly better than holding out for a city region devolution deal if this is not possible – and both Leeds and Sheffield City Regions’ economies (and that of the UK as a whole) will benefit from more decisions being made locally about boosting economic growth and improving local services.
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