Where’s the deal for Leeds?

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Despite dedicating a section of his Budget to devolution, there was no mention from George Osborne about any deal for Leeds. The devolution agenda has managed to bridge party lines in many areas, especially between the Conservative government and Labour-run local authorities, but politics now appears to be hindering progress on a devolution deal which would cover the city. On the one hand, there is a Leeds City Region bid, which is mainly backed by Labour politicians. On the other, there is a rival bid covering the wider area of West, East and North Yorkshire, mainly backed by Conservatives.

This stalemate appears to be causing frustration among business and education leaders alike, with an open letter being sent to the Chancellor just days before his budget stating:

‘As northern business and education leaders, we have major concerns about the continued absence of a meaningful devolution deal for such a significant economic area with a core city at its heart.’

The letter leaves little to the imagination about which bid they support. Until backers of the would-be regions reach a compromise, however, George Osborne is unlikely to commit to backing one bid over the other, especially following the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith, which has somewhat undermined his authority. In backing the Leeds City Region bid, he could antagonise many Conservative politicians across the county, and with a leadership contest looming on the horizon, that is surely something he would like to avoid.

A compromise devolution deal doesn’t look to be immediately forthcoming, with the Leader of the Conservative Group at Bradford Council saying they had approached West Yorkshire’s five Labour leaders about a political compromise but ‘hadn’t heard a dicky bird from them.’

The Chair of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership, Roger Marsh, has said that while he is disappointed there was no mention of a deal in the budget, he remains optimistic that a deal can be achieved and running in 2017. If it isn’t, then it will be interesting to see where the Chancellor’s loyalties lie – with his flagship devolution agenda, or his ambitions to be the next prime minister.

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