Skip to main content

Devolution of Power (Cities)

Volume 590: debated on Tuesday 6 January 2015

1. What steps he is taking to devolve power to Bradford and other cities and large metropolitan areas. (906783)

The Government have agreed a city deal and growth deal with the Leeds city region, of which Bradford is, of course, a part. The result is new transport, housing and regeneration schemes, such as the One City park, which will directly benefit Bradford. The city deal has already ensured more than 600 new apprenticeships, and 69% of 16 and 17-year-olds involved in the devolved youth contract pilot have been supported into education, employment or training. We are also in active negotiations on a devolution deal to give the area more control over key policy levers, and we hope to make an announcement shortly.

First, I wish the Deputy Prime Minister a very happy new year. I very much welcome his comments, but can we avoid having to have a metro mayor in the Yorkshire region? Will he reaffirm his belief that the greater devolution, which is very welcome, should not be at the cost of local people deciding the governance arrangements for the Yorkshire region?

I wish my hon. Friend, and Members on both sides of the House a happy new year. On the governance arrangements, clearly we need improved, strengthened governance when we give an area more power. As he rightly suggested, however, this should be a bottom-up process; there should not be a one-size-fits-all blueprint imposed from above. So it is not the Government’s policy to say that every area that has a new devolution deal has to subscribe to a particular form of new governance, be it metro mayor or otherwise. That needs to be driven by each local area, and I suspect that they will arrive at different proposals, according to their needs.

Twenty-odd years ago, before I came to the House, I was the leader of Bradford city council. At that time, there was great budgetary flexibility and councillors had flexibility as to how they spent the money. That flexibility has now gone. Should we not be looking at merging some of these councils in order to cut the bureaucracy? We should keep the accountability but seek to merge some of the bureaucracy to improve the conditions for West Yorkshire.

I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman that the more different local authorities can do things together to protect and improve front-line public services, the better. I do not entirely agree with his characterisation of the freedoms that local areas now have to use the moneys available to them. We have actually removed a lot of the ring fences that used to mean that Whitehall micro-managed the way money was spent locally, and we have also provided new borrowing powers. For example, tax increment financing is a major new financial innovation that local authorities can deploy.

I, too, wish the Deputy Prime Minister a happy new year. As he will know, Telford & Wrekin council represents a semi-rural area, yet a back-door deal is currently being done with Wolverhampton city council, which covers an urban area. Does he agree that there should be a full consultation with the people of Telford & Wrekin before any such merger? I represent a semi-rural borough, not an urban area.

As we have discussed on numerous occasions, the devolution process is not just an urban phenomenon. We need to make sure that power flows from Whitehall to all parts of the country, be they suburban, urban or rural. It is for each area to decide, when entering a new growth deal, how much they do so not just for cities or city centres, but for the outlying areas. Again, that is left to local discretion.

It is great to hear that the Deputy Prime Minister wants a bottom-up process for Bradford, but I wonder why he did not extend the same courtesy to the people of Greater Manchester. We now have an imposed mayor, appointed for several years before anyone gets a say at all. Will the Deputy Prime Minister give me a cast-iron guarantee that this imposed, appointed mayor will last no longer than 2017, which was the date mooted when this cosy backroom deal was announced? How long must my constituents be denied a voice?

I suggest that the hon. Lady speak to the leaders of all the councils in the area, including all the Labour leaders, as my understanding is that they advocated this—

Well, it is not my problem if local Labour council leaders have not consulted people locally—they made this decision. As she will know, shortly afterwards, on the other side of the Pennines, we entered into a very ambitious deal devolving new powers to Sheffield, without following the metro mayor model entered into by council leaders in her area.