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Ministers accused of 'dragging their feet' over transport fund

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Ministers are being accused of ‘dragging their feet’ over plans for regional transport and economic improvements worth £1.6m, which are expected to create 22,000 jobs.

The West Yorkshire Combined Authority has been seeking support from the Treasury after council tax reforms plunged its infrastructure programme into doubt.

One of its key components, a programme of major improvements to transport infrastructure in the region, is reliant on income raised by increasing transport levies. Such a move would now trigger council tax referendums at the authorities involved.

Treasury minister Danny Alexander recently cancelled a meeting with leaders at short notice and declined to meet with them even when they offered to travel to Scotland to allow the discussions to go ahead.

Members of the WYCA are now calling for a meeting with chancellor George Osborne to discuss the matter and find a way forward.

Peter Box (Lab), leader of Wakefield MDC and chair of the WYCA, said: “There is no reason to believe that Mr Osborne is no longer committed so we need a meeting with him as soon as possible to find a way to break through the current stalemate since it is the Treasury we are being told is blocking the deal.”

At its initial April meeting, the WYCA heard that the proposals for the fund had been accepted by senior ministers, including deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and communities secretary Eric Pickles.

The spokeswoman said the introduction of the Local Audit and Accountability Act (2014) just before the WYCA was established, which brought transport levies into the 2% council tax referendum threshold, left “councils with the Hobson’s choice of multiple referenda (up to 50) to exceed the 2% cap, or in effect to cut other essential services to afford the levy contributions, neither of which are practicable”.

As a result, an alternative proposal described as an innovative “version of payment by results” has been submitted to ministers who have agreed to consider the proposition, among other options.

Keith Wakefield (Lab), Leeds City Council leader and WYCA member, said: “We have gone back to them with alternative proposals of how we can make it work but we’re being stonewalled. If we cannot now get agreement from the government, the combined authority is going to struggle to achieve its aims.”



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