Jim McMahon, the new Labour MP for Oldham West is right to express his “deep unease” about the Northern Powerhouse. However it is the only game in town right now and just over the Pennines from his town the pressure is on Leeds City Region to get a similar deal to Greater Manchester’s.

Last week a conference in Leeds frankly discussed the difficulties involved. The background is that there are broadly two rival views on the way forward for Yorkshire. One believes that the county has a brand to die for and needs a single area covering West, North and East Yorkshire. Sheffield and South Yorkshire already have a deal. The other vision is for a Leeds City Region which includes Harrogate, Craven, York and Selby. The argument here is that the North’s best hope is in harnessing the energy of its cities whilst the more rural areas take a slower path to devolution.

Tom Riordan, the able Chief Executive of Leeds City Council is in no doubt he needs the power and resources devolution can bring. The city is without a tram system or adequate flood defences for instance. He is not obsessed with rivalry with Manchester pointing to major differences between the two cities. Leeds is five times as large geographically with large communities nearby like Bradford and Huddersfield. He thinks press reports of infighting are exaggerated but acknowledges there is a problem with the government’s insistence on an elected mayor. The concept was rejected for the City of Leeds three years ago and it is an arguable point whether Chancellor George Osborne can say he has a General Election mandate to insist that his mayoral model covers a wider geographical area.

Riordan insists he is not anti the Yorkshire concept pointing to the county wide cooperation that brought the Tour de France to the county with such brilliant success but the city versus county argument remains fierce. Peter Box, the chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority thinks the county has four distinct economies and with South Yorkshire having already gone its own way, the Greater Yorkshire model is flawed. This is contested by Lord Haskins, the former boss of Northern Foods and now chair of the Humber Local Enterprise Partnership. He is a firm believer that the Yorkshire brand has worldwide recognition and should have governance structures to match to promote the county particularly for business in Europe.

While the rest of the county struggles to get its act together it is interesting to look at what is happening in Sheffield. Events there may portend issues that may arise in the Liverpool City and Greater Manchester regions as elections approach for an elected mayor next year. A row has broken out over whether the elected mayor for the whole city region has a veto over all matters within the city itself.

It is also worthy of note that each of these devolution deals is different. Sheffield’s City Region mayor has not been combined with the Police and Crime Commissioner nor could they get vital powers over 16 to 18 year old skills powers. This is why MP Jim McMahon is deeply uneasy about the devolution project which lacks a national framework and coherence.




The road to the Northern Powerhouse is proving more rocky than originally anticipated. Rows about elected mayors, the boundaries of Combined Authority areas and the complete lack of democracy in setting it all up means the North presents a patchwork of progress and delay ahead of the crucial Autumn Statement.

It looks as if the resistance of St Helens, Wirral and Halton to an elected city region mayor has been overcome and they look set to join Greater Manchester and Sheffield will devolution deals done this month. In Lancashire Wyre Council are holding out against joining a county wide Combined Authority, but it is in Yorkshire that the bitterest row has broken out.

The leader of Kirklees Council, the area around Huddersfield, has accused North Yorkshire Council of “blatant self-interest and gerrymandering”. David Sheard is referring to the proposals for Greater Yorkshire that have been submitted to the government. This is a plan to bring Hull, York and four North Yorkshire districts together. The rival plan brings together West Yorkshire, based around Leeds but including Craven, Harrogate and Selby. North Yorkshire has refused to give over its transport and highways powers in those three districts. This would put a major curb on the transport and infrastructure role of the Leeds based city region.

Apart from the row over boundaries, there is a feeling that there is now less on the table for Leeds than when it was named a frontrunner for devolution in the summer. Envious eyes are being turned to the deal struck by Sheffield with some concluding that the idea of accepting an elected mayor for Leeds City Region with less powers than Sheffield got may not be worth doing.

It needs to be noted that Leeds City Region has already negotiated a growth deal investment fund of £600m, and it has control of the adult skills budget. It wants powers to manage European funding, an infrastructure levy ability and to run the buses, but talks seem to have stalled.

Even in Greater Manchester there is growing discontent with the total lack of public involvement in the Combined Authority deal. A group has been formed, the Greater Manchester Referendum Campaign for Democratic Devolution, and they will be targeting the wards of the ten leaders of Greater Manchester in next May’s elections.

They claim public awareness is low about the deal which is all about business and growth but very little about issues like social housing. They also worry about the accountability of people doing the deals now and how the city region mayor will be held accountable from 2017.

Concern about this issue was expressed at a high level meeting of the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) held in Liverpool this week. It concluded that for all the talk of the Northern Powerhouse there was no urban policy to back it up and answer questions about the unsustainable growth of London, how continuing support for the North over many decades was going to be achieved and what was to be the fate of smaller northern towns with little growth prospects.

One of the speakers at the TCPA meeting was Alan Harding from Liverpool University’s Heseltine Institute. He’ll be leaving in January to become economic adviser to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.