Exclusive: Increased powers for Yorkshire ‘will strengthen whole of North’

Manchester City Council's leader Sir Richard Leese
Manchester City Council's leader Sir Richard Leese

SHIFTING major powers from Whitehall to Yorkshire will strengthen the whole of the North so it can compete in the global economy, according to Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Leese.

Sir Richard dismissed suggestions that the landmark devolution deal struck by Greater Manchester last year had triggered a new era of transpennine competition and argued it was in his city’s interests to see Yorkshire follow suit.

Greater Manchester’s ten councils agreed last year to create an elected mayor in return for sweeping powers in areas such as transport, planning, fire, police and housing investment. The city has also agreed with the Government to take control of a single £6 billion health and social care budget

The latest in The Yorkshire Post’s Big Debate series is looking at how the region should respond to Chancellor George Osborne’s offer to reach similar agreements with other areas that agree to have mayors.

He confirmed in the Summer Budget that discussions are underway with two groups of Yorkshire councils - based around Sheffield and Leeds and their neighbours - but others argue there should be a single regional deal with one elected mayor.

Sir Richard told The Yorkshire Post: “It is very much in Manchester’s interest for other places to catch up. The fact that Leeds City Region, Sheffield City Region are in serious discussions with Government is a very good thing and I hope they are going to be successful discussions because actually from our point of view having a powerful Leeds City Region and a powerful Sheffield City Region is good news not bad news.

“It is a win-win game. We are not in the business of being in competition with Leeds and Sheffield, what we are in the business of is northern cities being in a better position to compete in a global economy. I think we do that better by working together than actually by taking a very parochial view that we are in competition with each other when in a global economy we are not.”

Sir Richard said devolution would allow Greater Manchester to better join-up services in areas such as health, helping people into work and supporting families.

“There is overwhelming evidence that cities, city regions, that have more control over their own economic destiny perform better economically and the national economy performs better as well,” he said.

“Ultimately we want to get a position that there are no decisions taken about Greater Manchester without Greater Manchester.”

The decision of the Labour-dominated area to reach a devolution deal with a Conservative Chancellor last year, just months before a General Election, prompted surprise in some quarters and it is known that before polling day some senior figures nationally were pressing other Labour councils not to follow suit.

“We had been banging on this door for a very long period of time and what happened last year is the door opened,” Sir Richard said.

“We were quite a while off a General Election. What we were clearly trying to do, working with other places including Leeds and Sheffield and other towns and cities in Yorkshire, was to try and get all of the major parties committed to a devolutionary agenda post General Election and I think we largely succeeded.

“But I think there is an element, and most cities would share this view, that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

“By and large on the devolutionary trail, you get what you can when you can and to a certain extent post General Election make it more difficult post General Election for any particular party to say we didn’t really mean it after all.”

The Yorkshire Post is hosting a debate in September on how devolution can shape the region’s future.

For more information, email jayne.lownsbrough@ypn.co.uk