BUSINESS leaders in Bradford have urged the Chancellor to break a political deadlock over a multi-million-pound devolution deal before it is too late.
Hopes are fading that a political impasse over a devolution deal for Yorkshire can be resolved in time for next week’s Budget.
With Chancellor George Osborne seemingly still unwilling to choose between two rival bids, and little chance of a compromise being struck between the two sides, it is looking increasingly likely that the region’s ambitions to secure more cash and powers in exchange for an elected mayor could be severely delayed.
Bradford Chamber of Commerce has now written to Mr Osborne saying local politicians have failed to agree on which bid is best and calling on him to break the deadlock.
The frontrunner bid was thought to be one put forward by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, covering the Leeds City Region area, and backed by mainly Labour politicians.
But a rival bid, dubbed Greater Yorkshire and covering West, East and North Yorkshire, secured the backing of many Conservatives.
Andy Caton, president of Bradford Chamber of Commerce, called for the Chancellor to step in and choose the Leeds City Region option.
He said such a deal would complete “the missing piece in the Government’s Northern Powerhouse”.
Alluding to the failure of politicians to agree on one unified bid, he added: “We cannot allow politics to get in the way of devolving the powers needed to grow the economy and in turn deliver more jobs.”
The existence of two competing bids meant no devolution deal was announced in Mr Osborne’s Autumn Statement last year.
Sheffield, Greater Manchester, Liverpool, the Tees Valley and the North East, which have already struck devolution deals, are set to go to the polls next year to elect metro-mayors.
But if no deal is reached here within the next few days, the rest of Yorkshire is unlikely to be able to join them on the same timetable and could fall behind considerably in the race towards devolution.
This week, the Treasury reiterated that it was up to leaders in Yorkshire to agree on the area covered by any deal.
A spokesman said: “We’ve already agreed five historic Northern Powerhouse devolution deals giving the north access to billions of pounds of new funding.
“The key to these deals is that they are led by local areas who choose which regions it will cover.”
Now, with frantic discussions continuing behind the scenes ahead of the Budget on Wednesday, each side is blaming the other for the impasse.
Councillor David Green, Labour leader of Bradford Council, accused the Conservatives of gerrymandering, saying they were pursuing the Greater Yorkshire idea because it was more likely to produce a Conservative mayor at the polls.
He denied the Labour party was doing the same, saying if they had wanted to do so, they would have been seeking a devolution deal for Labour-dominated West Yorkshire rather than the wider, and more politically mixed, Leeds City Region area.
He accused some Conservative MPs and council leaders of in-fighting and being too concerned with the status of their own powers if a devolution deal was struck.
He said: “I do think there’s real fear and concern about politics and status on one side and wanting to deliver economic growth on the other, and unfortunately politics and status appears to be the one that has got the ministers’ ear at the moment.”
Cllr Green called on the Chancellor to proceed with the Leeds City Region bid, for the sake of his Northern Powerhouse project.
He said that if there was no devolution deal for Leeds and Bradford, two of the biggest cities in the North, “nobody would be able to take the Northern Powerhouse seriously.”
But Councillor Simon Cooke, leader of the Conservative group at Bradford Council, laid the fault firmly at the door of West Yorkshire’s five Labour leaders, saying they had shown a “complete refusal” to negotiate with the Greater Yorkshire team.
He denied claims of Tory in-fighting, saying every Conservative group leader in North, West and East Yorkshire was behind the Greater Yorkshire bid.
He said: “It’s not about in-fighting, it’s about the five West Yorkshire leaders refusing, and especially [Combined Authority chairman] Councillor Peter Box in Wakefield and David Green here, refusing to engage with the process and refusing to consider Greater Yorkshire as an option.”
He said: “Sadly, from Bradford’s point of view and Yorkshire’s point of view, there is a very big risk that because of the approach that has been taken by the chairman of the Combined Authority and supported by the leader in Bradford, the result could be no deal for Bradford.
“That is probably bad news for Bradford but it is the way they have approached it that has caused this.”
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government stressed it was for local leaders to unite behind one deal.
He said: “The Government is making huge progress towards rebalancing the economy and empowering local areas through the devolution of powers and resources away from Whitehall.
“Ministers have been repeatedly clear this is a bottom-up process and we will pursue discussions with places at a pace that is right for them.”