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Leeds to set up ‘combined authority’ as part of city deal

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The Leeds City Region is set to follow Greater Manchester’s lead and set up a combined authority in order to access billions of pounds of funding for transport and investment as part of its city deal.

Papers set to be discussed by Leeds City Council’s executive next week make clear that a deal for the city region covering skills, transport, infrastructure investment and trade is expected to be announced soon after the May elections.

Leeds wants to establish a £1bn transport fund and for the government to match fund £200m of pooled cash for wider investment. The paper makes clear that to secure such funds will require new governance arrangements, specifically “a combined authority model to provide clearer leadership on this agenda”.

A combined authority is a legal body that allows a group of councils to govern and manage economic development and transport functions across a sub-region. According to a Department for Communities & Local Government consultation, combined authorities can levy constituent authorities and borrow money but only for specific transport purposes.

The paper does not specify precisely which authorities would be covered by the combined authority. The integrated transport authority – which the combined authority would have to replace – currently covers Bradford City Council, Calderdale MBC, Kirklees Metropolitan Council, Leeds and Wakefield MDC. However, the Leeds City Region LEP also includes Barnsley MBC, Craven DC, Harrogate BC, Selby DC and City of York Council.

The paper says that establishing a combined authority “will require formal consideration by each local authority affected”.

The process of moving to the new governance arrangements is likely to take between 12 and 15 months and the two-tier nature of local government within some parts of the city region geography will also bring a degree of complexity to this process,” the paper adds.

Greater Manchester was the first city to establish a combined authority in 2010 following its statutory city region negotiations. Writing for LGC last week, Lord Peter Smith (Lab), leader of Wigan MBC and chair of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, cited its creation as one of the key factors in the ‘city deal’ announced by chancellor George Osborne in last month’s Budget. That deal saw Manchester granted the ability to ‘earn back’ up to £30m each year of the additional benefits of economic growth.

A city deal for Leeds had also been expected to be announced at the Budget. The city had been working with the cities unit in the Cabinet Office and had a ministerial meeting on 6 March to “conclude the negotiations”. The paper says it now expects an announcement on the city deal “to be made after the May elections”.

The Leeds City Region has put forward a number of proposals to the government as part of the deal covering the themes of skills and worklessness, transport, investment, and trade and inward investment. See below for a summary of the proposals:

Skills and worklessnessA ‘NEET-free’ city regionTo set up a 14-24 ‘apprenticeship academy’; new apprenticeship hubs; campaign to encourage apprenticeshipsApproval to set up academy and hub (latter of which costs £8m), £15m from Employer Ownership of Skills fund
TransportA transformed transport system for the city region and the north of EnglandTo establish a Transport Fund of at least £1bn; to commit to establishing a combined authority to manage the fundGovernment to grant freedoms to manage the fund; to match commitment to 10-year investment programme
InvestmentTransformation of Leeds City Region infrastructureTo pool funds of £200m over 10 years into investment fund; establish robust appraisal system for investment prioritiesGovernment to match resources pound for pound; to grant freedoms to move towards single capital pot
Trade and inward investmentTo eliminate the Leeds City Region trade deficitTo commit £2m to deliver an agreed set of projects to increase exports and attract inward investmentCommitment from UK Trade & Investment to match resources
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