A Yorkshire-wide deal is “not legally possible” and risks being a “distraction”, according to Northern Powerhouse minister Andrew Percy.
By turning their attentions to a Yorkshire-wide deal, the Sheffield City Region runs the risk of the government withdrawing the proposed agreement as in the North East, said Mr Percy.
In comments made to the Yorkshire Post, which the Department for Communities & Local Government confirmed to LGC, Mr Percy said: “The government is committed to South Yorkshire; we want to see South Yorkshire happen and I would urge leaders in South Yorkshire not to walk away because they will be in a position like the North East where we take the proposal off the table because they have rejected it.”
After it became clear it was “not possible” for the Sheffield City Region to hold a mayoral election this year, the leaders of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority opened negotiations with other leaders about a Yorkshire-wide deal which would have an elected mayor sitting above three combined authorities across the region.
But Mr Percy said it was “very clear it is not legally possible” to have one mayor sitting above multiple combined authorities; the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act does not permit this.
Mr Percy said: “Asking us to do things that are not legally possible are a distraction that risks pushing Yorkshire further back.
“What we should be doing is concentrating on getting South Yorkshire over the line. Then it is up to East, West and North Yorkshire to come up with a solution that is within the law and the framework of devolution.”
In a joint response the leaders of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority said: “A refusal to look at other options within this one mayor/multiple combined authorities framework seems to be an unnecessary hurdle placed in the way of real devolution for and in Yorkshire.
“There is nothing to stop government at least exploring the merits of such a deal; certainly not legal considerations that could easily be overcome if the government so wished.”
The West Yorkshire leaders said they were “determined” to get a deal and not be left in “the devolution slow lane”.
“We will continue meeting with colleagues across Yorkshire to discuss options that benefit everyone and will achieve the ambitions set out by ministers in the government’s industrial strategy,” they said.
“This is why we are calling on everyone involved in the negotiations to rise above party politics and concentrate on what’s best for our local economies and in delivering opportunities for local people.”