Could devolution be the future for the Leeds region?

Millennium Square and Leeds Civic Hall, Leeds City Centre.
Millennium Square and Leeds Civic Hall, Leeds City Centre.

The possibility of devolved powers to local authorities like Leeds City Council (LCC) could soon be a reality.

A topic widely debated since the referendum on Scottish independence, drastic changes to the way the UK is run could be on the cards, according to leading local politicians.

Despite a no vote, more devolved powers to the Scottish parliament have been promised, and senior Leeds councillors have told the Wetherby News that more powers to English regions is the right move for the future.

LCC leader Coun Keith Wakefield (Lab) said negotiations are underway for a more autonomous city region, and that an ambitious bid has been submitted to the government.

“The recommendation is to allow 15 city regions to have devolved powers and freedoms, one of which is fiscal, so we have put an ambitious bid in to government for freedoms of transport, investment, housing, skills, and some of the public services,” he said.

“We have just started negotiating how ambitious we should be. It is very important, not only to the city region but the national economy.”

This is against the backdrop of LCC’s budget being cut by £470m since 2010 in government austerity measures.

Yet, as the strongest economic unit outside of London with £56b gross value added (GVA) - the individual contribution to the UK economy - Leeds has a lot to contribute.

First, however, Coun Wakefield wants to see more powers exercised on a local level to properly rebalance the British economy.

He said: “Most big cities perform below the national average and I think we are missing an opportunity to properly rebalance the national economy.

“The only way to do that is to break the Westminster model, which is so broken because it cannot tackle the big northern challenges and we are pretty fed up going cap in hand down to Westminster when we need money.

“I don’t underestimate Westminster’s ability to hold onto power. They have been there for 170 years and I think it won’t be the politicians only that we have to convince, it is the civil servants.”

Wetherby Coun Gerald Wilkinson (Con) added his support. He said: “The government is striving to create a ‘northern powerhouse’ to revitalise the region’s economy and provide a counterbalance to London’s dominance.

“The Chancellor has recognised that a key way to facilitate this is to hand powers to local decision makers who have the knowledge and expertise to take decisions in the region’s best interests, instead of them being taken by remote civil servants in Whitehall.

“There will also be greater democratic accountability; local politicians are directly answerable to local people.

“This can only be a good thing. People want a greater say over how the big decisions are taken, and the government’s reforms will ensure that this is the case.”

See next week’s Wetherby News for an update on the application and thoughts from Wetherby councillors John Procter and Alan Lamb.