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Yorkshire submits detailed devo deal proposals

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A detailed proposal for a devolution deal for Yorkshire has been submitted to the government.

This comes a week after Sajid Javid said he wanted to see firm proposals following a meeting with the leaders of 18 Yorkshire councils. In the meeting the housing and communities secretary indicated he is open to the idea of a Yorkshire-wide devolution deal, with a mayor, taking effect in 2020.

The proposal states: “A Yorkshire enjoying devolved powers and budgets will be a strong partner, offering complementary strengths to those of our partners in the devolved nations, south, Midlands and London while adding fresh momentum towards achieving the ambitions we have set out with our Northern Powerhouse neighbours.”

It added: “The prolonged absence of a devolution agreement for Yorkshire would not only deprive our communities of opportunities open to other parts of the country but would also be a major obstacle to achieving national growth ambitions at a pivotal moment for the UK economy. The Northern Powerhouse will remain incomplete until a thriving Yorkshire enjoying devolved powers and budgets is at its heart.”

As in other areas with devolution deals, the proposed Yorkshire CA would be chaired by an elected mayor, assisted by a cabinet made up of local authority leaders.

It is proposed the mayor would have direct control over devolved 19+ adult skills funding from 2020, a multi-year consolidated transport budget, franchised bus services in all (or part) of the region, as well as the power to levy a “supplementary business rate in all or part of the region, up to a cap, to provide financing of major strategic infrastructure which will drive growth”, and the ability to create mayoral development corporations on strategic sites, and set up and chair a Yorkshire land commission. The mayor will also get to review local enterprise partnership structures to make sure they “remain fit for purpose”.

Under the proposals the combined authority seeks control of a £125m-a-year gainshare revenue investment fund worth up to £3.75bn over 30 years, along with a £500m devolved housing investment fund. The region would also want to become a 100% business rates retention pilot and gain enterprise zone status for some major developments or have the ability to use a tax increment financing system, in which a proportion of future business rates are reinvested, on those sites.

The combined authority has also requested “borrowing powers to enable investment in economically productive infrastructure”, and wants to establish a single pot of funding to combine different elements of funding “to provide maximum flexibility to deliver local priorities”.

A request for “broad powers to acquire and dispose of land to enable more houses to be built” has also been submitted, while the CA also wants powers and devolved funding over the work and health programme, and more control over funding to improve skills and job prospects for the region’s population.

Sitting underneath the mayor and their cabinet would be “flexible sub regional area committees” which would “undertake any functions appropriately delegated… including transport functions which will be exercised on behalf of the mayor and cabinet for the areas of all or part of South Yorkshire and of West Yorkshire”.

The document did, however, stress that there is “no intention to take existing powers from local authorities”.

As with other devolution deals, any Yorkshire mayor would have to consult their cabinet on key strategies and their budget which can be rejected if two-thirds of its voting members present agree to do so. Each member, and the mayor, would have one vote.

The four Yorkshire local enterprise partnerships, two national parks, and trade unions would be represented, without voting rights, on the proposed body.

Should a devolution deal be agreed with government, the document proposes “dissolving one or both existing combined authorities” for West Yorkshire and Sheffield City Region ahead of the new Yorkshire CA being established. It is proposed the Yorkshire CA could start to receive funding and responsibilities by May 2019 in advance of the mayoral election in May 2020.

Only Sheffield City Council and Rotherham MBC, whose leader Chris Read (Lab) had last month softened his stance on a Yorkshire-wide proposal, have not formally joined the 18 other leaders in Yorkshire in voicing public support for the proposal. The proposed agreement does allow for them to join at any time though.

Should Yorkshire strike a deal with government it would also like to gain assurances the region can discuss gaining responsibility further into the future over its proportion of the shared prosperity fund which will replace European monies, and local rail stations with associated maintenance and improvement budgets. The region would also like to pilot “big data sharing agreements across key partners and utilities to support strategic planning” and pilot a “sector deal” regarding social care.

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