Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry has proposed a “rural” devolution deal around York alongside a deal for the Leeds City Region as a way of “unlocking all devolution in Yorkshire”.
Speaking at the One Yorkshire devolution conference on Friday Mr Berry said devolution was the answer to the divides and “resentment” exposed by the EU referendum in 2016.
He said: “Devolution is the golden thread of Brexit. There is no longer the need to pass London and collect your £200…
“Talk about Yorkshire devolution in a holistic way enables us now to unlock I hope in a rapid way devolution to the city of Leeds.
“I do think there is a rural deal around York.”
Last year, leaders of 18 of Yorkshire’s 20 councils and metro mayor Dan Jarvis submitted plans for a One Yorkshire mayoral authority with a goal to unlock power and funding from Westminster.
However, the government has repeatedly rejected the bid and last month made it clear that it would prefer Yorkshire to devolve into four separate functional economic areas – Humberside, South Yorkshire, North Yorkshire, and Leeds City Region.
On Friday, Mr Berry told the audience of council and business leader this could in effect mean devolution to all of Yorkshire.
Earlier in his speech Mr Berry said: “Yorkshire devolution really matters because if you complete devolution across Yorkshire, it will mean 70% of the UK will have meaningful devolution.
“Some devolution may be a way to unlocking all devolution in Yorkshire.
“In terms of collaboration of deals, the government has no blueprint – you don’t need permission to work together,” he said. “There’s real best practice out there: Liverpool and Manchester work very well together.
“One way is to set up collaboration committees or a joint growth strategy and all of that can be done.”
Mr Berry also said he was disappointed that “progress is still doggedly slow” with devolution in South Yorkshire.
The Sheffield City Region deal was signed in 2015, but despite the election of a mayor in 2018 it has yet to take effect after Barnsley and Doncaster MBCs withdrew their backing in favour of the One Yorkshire proposal.
“I find it deeply frustrating that the people of South Yorkshire will have missed out on £90m of government funding that should have been invested in their economies because we haven’t done that deal,” he said. “Our top priority is to complete South Yorkshire.”
Speaking later that day Sheffield City Region CA mayor Dan Jarvis, who also supports the One Yorkshire deal, told the conference a recent meeting with the housing and communities secretary James Brokenshire had “made more progress than we had in the last nine months”.
He added: “We can now put in place a series of short and medium term engagements which would give us more time and space to look at other issues of One Yorkshire devolution.”
Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake (Lab) said one solution could be “rolling forwards city deals… to unlock a deal further down the line.”
She said: “I recognise from the statement that the government has made that they are not minded to fully embrace our One Yorkshire proposal.
“But I think the genie is out of the bottle and the most important aspect now is how do we get where we want to be?”
She said talks were taking place with officials from the Ministry for Housing, Communites & Local Government.
She added: ”Our officers are talking to his officials, we will be involving the Treasury in those discussions. Hopefully we can come up with a way to break the impasse we’ve had for too long now.”
Richard Foster, the leader of Craven DC (Con), told LGC he had concerns about the impact of a separate devolution deals on small towns and villages in rural areas of North Yorkshire.
“Everything has its own problems. The conclusion we came to after a year of trying to work this out is ‘One Yorkshire’. We want to hold firm at the moment. But if there is a proper road map set out, with timelines and One Yorkshire at the end, we might have a different opinion.”
Phillip Blond, the director of the think-tank Respublica which organised the conference, said although the four ‘functional economic areas’ in Yorkshire on which the government would like to create devolution deals don’t inter-relate with each other a lot at the moment, they could work together over time and create “pan Yorkshire strategic forms of intervention”.
“Certainly in transport and I think arguably in economic development, growth partnerships, supply chain construction and smart specialisation,” he said.
“We can keep One Yorkshire on the table, we can grow the functional economic areas and create a genuine Yorkshire wide economy. But we begin locally with the city deals and that’s what I want to try to broker.
“It’s devolution at scale happening through devolution in degrees. There is an increasing support for this because it’s the only progress forwards. There is no future asking for something government has already refused.”
Jo Miller, chief executive of Doncaster, supports a One Yorkshire devolution as a way to heal the social divisions that the EU referendum in her mind laid bare.
“In Yorkshire, our brand is a massive opportunity. I’ve never met anyone on my travels who says ‘I’m from the Northern Powerhouse’ but I meet people who say they’re from Yorkshire all the time. It’s gold dust in our divided country.
“We’re at a point where we need civic renewal and we have to seize it and make it our own.”
In his speech, Mr Berry, a Lancashire MP, also acknowledged the strength of Yorkshire’s brand.
“Yorkshire as a brand is much stronger than how people feel about Lancashire – that’s a difficult thing to say.
“So I get the point that we have a world beating brand in Yorkshire and no form of devolution will ever change that.”