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Leeds leader wants successor to 'rebuild relationships'

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The outgoing leader of Leeds City Council has called on his successor to “rebuild relationships” with the government so more powers and control over funding can be devolved to his region.

Keith Wakefield (Lab) announced his intention to step down from his role on Wednesday and in an interview with LGC he said it was a “real challenge” for any council leader to deal with day-to-day business and be a driving force for devolution.

In March, Cllr Wakefield and other members on the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) signed off a devolution deal which gave it control of the region’s adult skills budget and a share of the apprenticeship grant for employers, but little control over anything else. The lack of fiscal freedoms led Cllr Wakefield to describe the deal as “not powerhouse stuff”.

Talking to LGC yesterday, Cllr Wakefield said: “I think it’s right we look at renewing our efforts at rebuilding relationships with government, whoever gets it [the Leeds leader role], and seeking to get more powers from Whitehall.

“Many of us as leaders have got this real challenge about how you focus your time and efforts around that particular issue. Every leader who is managing a big or small council will find that challenging.”

When asked if it was possible to devote enough time to being ward councillor, council leader and combined authority duties, Cllr Wakefield said: “As the city region agenda grows and as the demand for devolution grows then we will all need to look at the kind of governance we need to make sure that leaders or leading figures are playing that strategic role.”

The Conservative manifesto suggests the party would only devolve powers “to large cities which chose to have elected mayors”, although Labour has been less prescriptive. Cllr Wakefield said an elected mayor model was still “not my preferred option” and said that if the model was introduced in the region, he “wouldn’t run for elected mayor”.

West Yorkshire needed “a much more collective and democratic [model] than an elected mayor”.

When he announced his intention to stand down Cllr Wakefield said he wanted to spend more time trying achieve greater devolution for the city region.

He told LGC he hoped he had the “trust and the partnerships with people across the city region” to continue in a different role, although it was “still to be determined” if he could continue to sit on the combined authority.

Cllr Wakefield, who has been leader of Leeds’ Labour group for the last 12 years, will continue to be council leader until 21 May when his successor is appointed.

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