Give Yorkshire billions to solve housing woes - report

Hundreds of millions of pounds and major powers to tackle some of Yorkshire’s most deep-rooted problems should be handed over to the region, according to an influential report.

It says the ‘combined authorities’ formed in West and South Yorkshire earlier this year should be given total control over where Government housing money is spent in their areas - a move that would put £2.5 billion of spending in local hands.

The report from the IPPR think tank also says Yorkshire’s combined authorities should be equal partners with the Government when it comes to running the Work Programme - the Coalition’s flagship £5 billion welfare-to-work scheme.

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Labour leader Ed Miliband stopped short of endorsing every recommendation yesterday but he heaped praise on the report and committed his party to moving power out of London.

“We can’t make the country work for people again by relying on Whitehall and Westminster. We can only do it by devolving power,” he said.

Councils in West and South Yorkshire and York formed combined authorities earlier this year and have already been given limited powers in areas such as transport and skills.

But they have argued that their impact on the long term problems facing the region will be limited unless they are given greater freedom.

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West Yorkshire Combined Authority chairman Peter Box said bringing about improvements in areas such as transport and skills could not happen “in isolation” from other major issues facing the region’s economy.

“We need the ability, as individual councils, to tackle the social issues highlighted by the IPPR in The Condition of Britain Report to create the environment in which people and communities can really participate in this greater transformation that would enable West Yorkshire and the City Region to achieve its real potential.”

The ideas were also backed by Sheffield City Region Combined Authority chairman Sir Steve Houghton.

He said: “There are areas such as housing, tackling worklessness, health and social care integration, tackling reoffending, that we could be looking at if the Government was prepared to devolve and let us get hold of existing spending.”

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But Sir Steve said local leaders would also need to be prepared to agree with Ministers on what would be achieved.

The IPPR report suggests combined authorities could be given sweeping powers over where affordable housing is built, who receives housing benefit and social rent levels along with the money currently spent on housing from Whitehall.

Giving councils a say in the Work Programme would bring their resources and understanding to bear on getting people into work, it says.

IPPR director Nick Pearce said the social and economic challenges facing Britain required a “a decentralisation of power over major areas of policy out of Whitehall”.