Considered in Grand Committee
That the Grand Committee do consider the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (Election of Mayor and Functions) Order 2021.
Relevant document: 41st Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee
My Lords, this order was laid before Parliament on 17 December and, if approved by both Houses, will implement the devolution deal agreed between the Government and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and announced by the Chancellor at the Budget on 11 March 2020. It will establish the office of Mayor of West Yorkshire, with the first election to take place on 6 May 2021. The mayor will be chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, which comprises the constituent councils of Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds and Wakefield. The order also transfers the police and crime commissioner functions for West Yorkshire to the combined authority, to be exercised by the mayor. Additionally, the mayor and combined authority will be conferred a range of other significant powers, as agreed in the devolution deal. These include education and skills, housing, regeneration and planning, the mayoral development corporation and transport.
The order also amends some of the combined authority’s governance arrangements to reflect these powers and the role of the mayor. If this order is approved and made, West Yorkshire will benefit from significant funding, which was agreed for the area as part of the deal. The largest element of this is the £38 million of annual investment funding for West Yorkshire for the next 30 years, comprising more than £1.1 billion in total, to be invested by West Yorkshire to drive growth and take forward its priorities. It also includes other significant funding, such as £317 million from the Transforming Cities Fund, £101 million for flood risk management, a £25 million heritage fund and £500,000 for a Bradford station masterplan. In addition, the deal provides the area with flexibilities on spending, as well as control of the annual education budget.
As other combined authorities have shown, there is good evidence that devolution to geographies that reflect a functional economic area enhances economic performance, fiscal efficiency and policy delivery at both national and local levels by making government action more coherent locally and enhancing local government’s contribution to solving problems in areas falling between individual policy fields. By conferring the powers on the combined authority, the provision of local services will be better aligned with locally determined priorities and there will be less complexity as the delivery of public services within the combined authority area is streamlined. The deal provides that West Yorkshire will monitor and evaluate the deal in order to demonstrate and report on progress.
As I am sure noble Lords will agree, these powers and this funding will be a vital element of the city region’s economic and social recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. Together, they will drive growth and create opportunities for people who live and work in West Yorkshire. At this point, I am keen to recognise and thank the local leaders and their councils for all that they have done and are continuing to do to support the area and local people as they face the challenges of the pandemic.
This order will be made under the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009, as amended by the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016. As required by the 2016 Act, along with this order we have made a Section 105B report which provides details about the public authority functions, such as adult education functions and responsibility for a devolved and consolidated local transport budget, which we are devolving to the combined authority. Some of these functions, such as the power to pay grants to constituent councils for exercising highways functions, will be exercisable by the mayor.
The statutory origin of this order is in a governance review and scheme adopted in April 2020 by the combined authority with its five constituent councils in accordance with the requirements of the 2009 Act. The scheme proposed additional functions to be conferred on the combined authority, as envisaged in the devolution deal. It specified those that would be exercised by the mayor and made certain amendments to governance arrangements.
The combined authority and the councils consulted on the proposals in their scheme. The public consultation was promoted widely through a range of platforms. Responses were accepted through the combined authority website as well as via email, letter and a hard-copy form. It ran from 25 May to 20 July 2020. In total, 4,413 people responded. The combined authority provided the Secretary of State with a summary of the responses to the consultation on 14 September.
Overall, there were eight questions, on all of which there was strong support from the public and stakeholders. Indeed, the leading question, which asked whether the respondent agreed or disagreed with the proposals for the revised arrangements for the combined authority, was supported by almost 70% of respondents. Specific questions on the powers to be conferred under transport, skills, employment, housing and planning garnered similar levels of support. Some 60% of respondents supported the proposal to transfer police and crime commissioner functions to the mayor. I can confidently say that, overall, there was strong support from the people of West Yorkshire.
In laying this draft order before Parliament, the Secretary of State is satisfied that the statutory tests in the 2009 Act are met—that no further consultation is necessary and that conferring the proposed powers would likely improve the exercise of statutory functions in the combined authority area—and are appropriate, having regard to the need to reflect the identities and interests of local communities and to secure effective and convenient local government, and that, where the functions are local authority functions, they can be appropriately exercised by the combined authority. Furthermore, as required by statute, the combined authority and the five constituent councils have consented to the making of this order.
The order before noble Lords will give effect to the provisions of the devolution deal, which I will briefly summarise. PCC functions will be transferred to the WYCA for exercise by the mayor. The order is clear that the mayor’s role as the holder of PCC functions is carved out, meaning that decisions around police property, rights and liabilities are the mayor’s responsibility and there remains a distinct precept. All money relating to policing must be paid into and out of the police fund, and that money can be spent only on policing and matters related to the mayor’s PCC functions.
A new police and crime panel is to be created, which will exercise broadly the same functions as under the PCC model. The financial year of the PCC and chief constable of West Yorkshire is to be extended from 31 March to 9 May 2021 to rationalise accounting processes and avoid preparing additional accounts for the one-month interim period. Any receipts will be paid to the police fund to ensure that police funding is protected.
The combined authority will take on many education functions for its area. This will also enable it to establish adult education provision and manage its devolved adult education budget from 2021-22. This can be better aligned to locally determined priorities and help boost economic growth.
To improve the supply and quality of housing and facilitate the regeneration of West Yorkshire, the combined authority will be conferred housing, regeneration, land acquisition and disposal powers. These powers will be exercised concurrently with Homes England, enabling the combined authority, working closely with Homes England, to promote housing and regeneration.
The compulsory purchase of land will be a mayoral function and any decision will require consent from the combined authority member whose local government area contains any parts of the proposed land. This order will also give the mayor a power to designate mayoral development areas in the combined authority area to support the delivery of strategic sites in West Yorkshire. This is the first step in establishing a mayoral development corporation, or MDC, in the combined authority area. A further order will be necessary to create such a body. The relevant powers concerning MDCs are conferred on the combined authority to be exercised by the major. These decisions will require the consent of the respective combined authority members whose council areas contain any parts of the designated area and of the Peak District National Park Authority if any part of the designated area sits within the national park.
While strategic planning powers and strategic infrastructure tariffs were agreed in the devolution deal, these are not being conferred at this stage. The Government have committed to confer these powers or their equivalent once the way forward on the reforms to the overall planning system is clear.
The mayor will have control over a consolidated and devolved transport budget, with a power to pay grants to the five constituent councils in relation to the exercise of their highways functions to improve and maintain roads. The mayor may pay grants to bus service operators or eligible bus services operating within the combined authority area. Grants must be calculated in accordance with any regulation methods made by the Secretary of State.
The order also includes constitutional provisions reflecting the powers conferred on the role of the mayor. There is a provision on voting arrangements so that any decision of the combined authority about its new powers conferred through the order must include the mayor among the majority of members in favour of that decision. It also provides for the establishment of an independent remuneration panel to recommend the allowances of the mayor and the deputy mayor.
The mayor and the combined authority will be scrutinised and held to account by the combined authority’s overview and scrutiny committee. The overview and scrutiny arrangements that the combined authority has currently established will be retained, subject to any amendments required to reflect the introduction of the mayor and any statutory provisions. Under the terms of the deals, the mayor and the combined authority may also seek to enhance scrutiny and develop their wider conference with all elected members of the combined authority’s areas to engage on key issues.
This order, which is supported locally, is a significant step forward for West Yorkshire and its businesses and communities. It is key to the city region’s economic recovery. I commend this instrument to the Committee.
My Lords, in three minutes, I can touch on only one or two key issues. I welcome the order and the elevation of the leader of Leeds City Council, Judith Blake, to this House. I know that she will make a great contribution.
In winding up, could the Minister touch on when we might have the long-promised White Paper on devolution? How might it deal with the inconsistencies and incoherence of having different powers for different city regions and their mayors; the creation of powers for mayors to have the police and crime commissioner function in some areas but not in others; and the way in which the resources he referred to, combined as they were in the Autumn Statement, have been cut and the structural funds originally available from the European Union have disappeared? They now look more like the towns fund, which became a slush fund for individual Members of Parliament. How might that be avoided in these circumstances?
I want to touch particularly on the importance of Yorkshire getting its act together to collaborate, have its voice heard and ensure that it is not discriminated against as it has been so blatantly in recent years. If the Sheffield City Region—I hope that it will stop arguing about the name—and the newly created West Yorkshire mayoral authority, together with the leaders in the remainder of Yorkshire, can combine as they have done in the last few days with those in the East Midlands to make their voices heard on the HS2 scandal, some good will certainly have come out of this. Others will mention HS2; it is interesting that the briefing from HS2 always refers to the Crewe and Manchester leg as connecting to the north, as though the north were just the north-west. It is time that Yorkshire got its act together and collaborated.
That will involve the Government supporting the universities in Yorkshire to combine to counterweight the golden triangle of Imperial, Oxford and Cambridge. It will involve the local authorities, as well as the city mayors, being able to see where their voice can be heard, for instance in the present maldistribution of vaccines—parts of Yorkshire have done so well in distribution that they are now being rationed—to ensure above all that the work done at the local level can be properly supported and a coherent policy developed from central government.
Given what is happening with Scotland and in Ireland, and given the failure to have any coherent policy for the English regions, confirmation of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority is way overdue. Since, uniquely, the region has two major cities—because Bradford is the size of Bristol—this will be a step forward in ensuring that the voice of the great, historic county of Yorkshire can at last be heard just as loudly as the voice of the north-west of England.
My Lords, I have a direct interest in this matter as a councillor in Kirklees and as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
As we have heard, there are five constituent councils in West Yorkshire, representing 2.5 million people. Again, as we have heard, it is the only region with three cities: Bradford, Wakefield and Leeds. It has not been easy for the councils to give their agreement to this deal. There were only 4,400 responses to the consultation, which is hardly representative, and three of the constituent councils failed to achieve unanimity on the deal.
There is a healthy degree of scepticism in West Yorkshire about the mayoral model. This is compounded by the ability of the mayor to appoint both a political adviser, paid from the public purse, and a deputy mayor for policing—again, a political appointee paid from the public purse. Yorkshire residents are rightly suspicious of mayors’ ability to add to their council tax bills and of the lack of ongoing, direct accountability for their decisions. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee highlighted the fact that
“operational efficiencies … could lead to reduced costs”.
However, it concluded that the MHCLG was not able to provide evidence to support that assertion. I wonder whether the Minister will be able to do so.
This agreement is hailed as devolution but it falls at the first hurdle. The agreement that was originally reached has been undermined unilaterally by the Government at the very last minute. As the Minister has said, strategic planning powers and powers for a strategic infrastructure tariff have been removed from the agreed deal by the Government on the whimsy that they may be compromised by a government planning Bill. So much for devolution. The Government have cocked a collective snook at West Yorkshire; the Covid vaccine supply debacle has just compounded that sentiment.
As for funding, the promise of £1.1 billion over 30 years is not guaranteed; £38 million a year is all the extra that is provided for. Given that the five councils have had more than £500 million cut from their spending every year, this puts the financial offer into a proper perspective. However, on the basis that half a loaf is better than none at all, I am willing to accept this instrument.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, who obviously has a great personal interest in this draft order given her strong role in Kirklees.
I thank my noble friend the Minister for setting out the terms of the order. I certainly welcome it. Until now, West Yorkshire has been the most obvious omission from the pattern of combined authorities and metro mayors in England. The Conservative manifesto committed the Government to a successful devolution of powers to city region mayors and to a White Paper on devolution in 2020. I understand the reasons for the delay but the Government confirmed last week that the English devolution and local recovery White Paper would be published “in due course”—three words with which we are all familiar and which have been used by successive Governments. Can I press my noble friend to indicate with perhaps more clarity the precise timetable of that happening?
The draft order, based on the devolution deal, has been agreed by the councils of the area and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, and a public consultation has been carried out, as detailed in the Explanatory Memorandum. Although all consultations for combined authorities have not had a flood of responses, this one has had the largest, as noted by the leader of Leeds City Council, Judith Blake. Like the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, I very much congratulate her on the announcement of her Peerage, and I look forward to her presence and contributions in your Lordships’ House. The consultation demonstrates considerable support for the content of the order, from 59% on finance to 75% on transport. I am pleased to see that it very much involved the universities of the area.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, I note that planning and strategic infrastructure have not been conferred and that the Government are committed to conferring planning, at least in future. Could my noble friend outline the timeframe for that to happen and perhaps also explain why infrastructure has not been included?
Finally, I ask my noble friend about the elections that we all hope and expect to take place in May, as he mentioned—not just in West Yorkshire, of course. When will the guidelines be issued for the conduct of those elections? What discussions have there been with the devolved Administrations, particularly Wales, where there will be some elections on that day governed by the National Assembly for Wales—namely, the Senedd elections—and some by Westminster: namely, the police and crime commissioner elections? Clearly, those guidelines need to be dovetailed so that they say the same things. I look forward to my noble friend’s response.
My Lords, I start by declaring an interest, as I will have a vote in the West Yorkshire mayoral elections. I also endorse what my noble friend Lord Blunkett said about the urgency with which we need to see the White Paper and the more comprehensive approach to devolved institutions.
I will talk not about the powers but about the practicalities of the election. The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, has just said that we should have clear guidelines as soon as possible. We would all like the elections to go ahead, but we have to be realistic and make sure that there are proper preparations. We do not want a last-minute decision to postpone them elections, and we are in danger of seeing that if we do not have better preparations at a very early point.
We are only a matter of weeks from candidates having to go around getting people to sign their nomination forms, which would be difficult. We would normally see volunteers putting leaflets through, and knocking on, doors, which will not be possible. Telephone canvassing is not a good substitute.
The Government have said that polling stations will be Covid-safe, but many schools are polling stations. Will they have to close the day before and after for deep cleans? All those things need looking at. Where will returning officers will get their polling staff from—and will they be vaccinated? Will they be vaccinated three weeks or three months in advance? We are running out of time.
However, my biggest concern is for the count, because the practicalities are clear to anyone who has been a candidate in an election. Counts are busy; they are in big halls, many of which are being used for vaccinations, so they may not be available. How can a scrutineer stand two metres apart from other scrutineers and the people counting and have total confidence that they are doing a good job?
There is a real difficulty here because I do not think that the Government have fully taken on board all the practical difficulties. If they are going to go ahead with those elections on the due date, they have to have closer and more detailed conversations with both returning officers and local authority leaders. Those leaders have had a lot to put up with in the past few months, as the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, who is a councillor, was saying. They have very scarce resources: we do not want them to have to spend money making preparations for elections that get called very late and at the last minute.
Finally, I acknowledge the work that has gone on in the lead-up to this situation. I particularly pay tribute to Councillor Susan Hinchcliffe, who has been the chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and has helped to keep all the local authorities working so well together during recent difficult times.
My Lords, this order represents another small step in decentralising England. The additional powers, over skills and training and strategic housing and regeneration, in particular, are important, if limited. But, of course, there is little extra money.
I shall leave it to colleagues who live in Yorkshire to comment further on the detail of the order, but I want to make the point that what is being introduced is in practice a centralised structure. It is not just that the duties of an elected Police and Crime Commissioner are to be taken over by the mayor, it is also that there will be no assembly, as in London. There, the Assembly exists to hold the mayor to account and make sure that the mayor’s policies, actions and strategies are in the public interest.
Scrutiny matters. We need to look carefully at how scrutiny has worked in all mayoral authorities—not just combined authorities—to assess how each is performing and what we can learn from their achievements or failures. When combined authorities were first introduced, their bespoke nature was understandable, because it meant that different approaches to spreading power in England could be tested. That approach has been useful, but now we need to review how well each of the combined authorities has worked and how more power and responsibility might be devolved from Whitehall and Westminster—and not just to those existing combined authorities. That could take place in the context of the promise by the Government of a White Paper on English devolution, which was due last year, as we have heard from other noble Lords and Baronesses this evening.
At the last election, the Conservative manifesto contained a commitment to a constitution, democracy and rights commission. That is welcome, but, in my view, we need a proper constitutional convention that looks towards creating a federal structure for the United Kingdom. This is because the question of whether to hold another referendum on independence for Scotland should be seen in the context of the UK as a whole. That must surely include the constituent parts of England. It could prove key to helping the levelling up agenda, because I think levelling up, if it is to be successful, will require constitutional reform.
The Covid pandemic is teaching us many things. One is that England is too centralised. There will be a public inquiry, but we need more. We need a constitutional convention to spread power and responsibility much more widely.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the powerful remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and I associate myself with his and others’ questions about when we can expect the devolution White Paper. We know the slogan “Take back control” was at the forefront in 2016; I do not believe it has any less resonance today—I suggest it has more, given the loss of the democratic oversight and opportunities of the European Parliament.
I declare my position as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and the input of the Yorkshire & the Humber Green Party into these questions. Most of them concern democracy. The Minister referred in his introductory remarks to the consent for these plans and the percentage of people who indicated agreement to the lead question. So I ask the Minister: what alternative was offered to people? Would it have meant a loss of money to the region, as I understand it would? Were people given the alternative to show support for the One Yorkshire plan that, in 2019, 18 of the 20 councils of the regions backed? Where is the Government’s evidence for the support of the people? Why was a referendum not held, as has occurred in the past?
As other noble Lords have said, London has an elected Assembly that scrutinises the work of the mayor—perhaps not as strongly as we might like but it none the less exists and has the opportunity to question and challenge. Why does Yorkshire not have a similar assembly or, given its scale, a parliament? Can one person really represent 2.5 million people? Will there not be a democratic loss through the loss of the elected police and crime commissioner and making the deputy mayor for policing a political appointee, as the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, said? Across West Yorkshire, more than 8% of elected councillors are from parties other than Labour, the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats. How are the voices of those other voters going to be properly represented on the combined authority?
Briefly, in the time available to me, I have some questions. There is a low level of participation in adult education across the region of 30%. The lowest level nationally is 29% in the south-west. Are there enough resources for the new mayor to be able to make a difference? Given that housing is such a huge issue in the area, perhaps the Minister could now, or at some point in the future, say whether the Government have considered allowing the mayor to suspend the right to buy in West Yorkshire and specify higher levels of energy efficiency as part of the mayor’s powers.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, for his clear explanation of the powers that the authority will have and what it can do. I also declare an interest as a member of Cumbria County Council. I am a member of that council because I believe in local government, and it is a key part of the levelling-up agenda to have stronger, more effective local government in the north of England.
I should like to put three points to the Minister. First, as my noble friend Lord Blunkett, the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and others have pointed out, there are inconsistencies and deficiencies in the way in which this devolution process has been handled. We need a White Paper, more consistency and to strengthen not weaken devolution. When are those proposals going to come?
Secondly, until now, the focus has been on strengthening the voice of the big metropolitan areas in the north of England but there are, of course, more rural and scattered hinterlands. The Government are considering local government reorganisation proposals for the hinterland in the north-west of my native Cumbria, in the hinterland of West Yorkshire and in North Yorkshire. I strongly support the creation of single strategic authorities in those areas. The district councils are iffy about this, but we can deal with their concerns through effective devolution within a strategic authority to towns and groups of parishes. That would be a better answer.
Thirdly, a stronger voice for Yorkshire is desperately needed as the Government contemplate the decision to put the eastern leg of HS2 on the back burner, which would be catastrophic for the north. It would create gross inequality between the north-west and Yorkshire and Humber and the north-east that would get worse and worse as the decades went on. It cannot be allowed to happen. I know that this is not the Minister’s direct responsibility but that of the Department for Transport, but the Local Government Minister must give attention to this desperately important issue.
As somebody born and raised in Huddersfield and whose family still lives there, now calling Sheffield my home, I feel I have a little knowledge about West Yorkshire and the devolution deal in a White Rose county. As a vice-president of the LGA, I welcome the order, but start with a word of caution as I look up the M1. Do not fall for the hype that these devolution deals are a way to solve the decades of underinvestment and lack of opportunities for Yorkshire’s people and the infrastructure required for future well-being and prosperity.
Although welcome, these deals do not deliver the powers and responsibilities that each area needs to shape their destiny. In reality, this is decentralisation, not true devolution. We have seen over the past few months that the real powers on game-changing investment will continue to sit with the iron fist of the Treasury, fixed and rooted in Whitehall. One of the significant schemes for West and South Yorkshire is HS2: both are on the eastern leg of the line. The Government have gone cold, and plans from the National Infrastructure Commission now appear to either kick the eastern leg into the long grass or scrap it altogether.
Support for future opportunities by linking the people and businesses of the great towns and cities of Yorkshire and the north via an integrated transport system is also needed. We have been told to lower our horizons. Whitehall has cut the budget for Transport for the North. London still has the real levers over money and strategic decisions. These devolution deals give us some crumbs at our tables, while the bread machine and loaf-makers stay in Whitehall. No innovative money-raising powers or exciting and significant fiscal incentives for the economic and social improvements at the scale that West Yorkshire requires are in this deal. The pandemic has made the task even harder. As this week’s annual study by the Centre for Cities shows, the number of people seeking work in parts of Yorkshire has increased fivefold in the wake of Covid, with many facing the prospect of years in the job wilderness unless the Government recognise the scale of the unfolding economic crisis that we face.
Although the deal is welcome, the Government must be honest with people in West Yorkshire. The vital levers of power and fiscal control to make the significant changes required are not part of this deal. Small changes can be made by the metro mayor, but the game-changing levers for people, communities and the local economy will still be in the grip of Whitehall. Levelling up will be a soundbite until we get meaningful devolution leading to a more federal England that can truly unleash the full potential of Yorkshire and its people.
My Lords, it looks like half of Sheffield has turned up today, but then the interest is rather big because they need to go to West Yorkshire in order to see a goal or two, and the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and I will be able to catch up on a very good goal after this session. It would also be good if there was a high-speed link to aid the speed there and to bring county cricket back to Sheffield, so that there was some reverse travel as well, combining the old with the new.
I warn the Government of a potential political own-goal of significance to which I have been alerted only today. That is something I warned about when the South Yorkshire mayoral order was passed and we got assurances. I am not sure whether it is relevant to this, but I seek clarification from the Minister on that. That is the alignment of health bodies and this new, strengthened system of local government.
I made the point in relation to the Sheffield mayor that not all health authorities follow the same boundaries. The Doncaster and Bassetlaw health authority has, without question, been the top-performing health authority over the last 30 years, particularly in primary care—as, I predict, will be witnessed when statistics come out on Covid vaccination. However, it is about to be undone by bureaucratic meddling as people take their eye off the ball, combining the two—in other words, separating the funding from existing health systems. It makes Doncaster hospital unviable and closes down the accident and emergency department in Bassetlaw.
The constituencies directly affected are Newark, Bassetlaw, Bolsover, the top of Mansfield, Rother Valley and Don Valley. The impact is pretty significant and I ask the Minister to talk to his colleagues in health. Modernising and reforming—I would say “strengthening” —local government, and trying to shift well-established, successful health boundaries and shove them under the same authority is something that, even if thought sensible, should be done over a decade, not in a few minutes as a whim, with the mantra “We’ve got to do everything through public health”. If the Government get that wrong, I can tell noble Lords that voters in six constituencies—or perhaps seven, as you could add a number of voters from Brigg and Goole—will not forgive them.
So, in doing good by bringing in these mayoralties and devolving power, we should not allow others to undermine that good work by messing around with the health structures. Such changes should be slow, gradual and thought through, not rushed, but there is a danger that that is happening at this moment.
My Lords, the key issue that has come out of this debate is whether this new mayor and the combined authority will have the powers to make a fundamental difference. We all accept that we need it to be able to make a fundamental difference to level up and give the people of West Yorkshire the dynamic future that they need.
The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, put his finger on a key policy issue, to which we would welcome an answer from the Minister: why has the mayor not been given responsibility for strategic infrastructure? Given that the mayoral authorities are intended to be strategic and West Yorkshire needs a plan for the future, the absence of a power to plan strategic infrastructure is a gaping hole in this order.
That links directly to the point about HS2 made by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, and my noble friends Lord Blunkett and Lord Liddle. I suggest that HS2 is the single most important piece of infrastructure for the strategic future of West Yorkshire. If it happens, it will produce a transformation in connectivity, but there will be a real crisis from the comparative lack of connectivity if, as my noble friend Lord Blunkett said, HS2 goes to the north-west in the extension from Birmingham to Crewe and Manchester but does not go to the east Midlands and on to Sheffield and Leeds and continue into the north-east. That is hugely important for the area about which the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, has spoken.
I am sure that the Minister, whom we hold in high regard, will repeat the words that have been repeated many times in both Houses about the eastern leg of HS2: that the Government are in principle committed to it, that they wish to see the benefits of HS2 shared with Yorkshire and the north-east, and that the integrated rail plan will be coming soon. We have heard all that before. The problem is that those things do not commit the Government to producing and progressing with the eastern leg of HS2 at all—because it could be delayed indefinitely—let alone on the same timescale as proposed for Crewe and Manchester.
Therefore, rather than get another recital of the brief, perhaps I may ask the Minister to take two specific points back to his right honourable friends the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, who will be the key decision-makers in this respect. The first is that the Government have now said that, because of delays due to Covid and logjams in the Department for Transport, the legislation to extend HS2 from Crewe to Manchester will be introduced not this year but next year. That means that there is now an opportunity to revert to the original plan for phase 2b of HS2 and put the whole of the eastern leg in it.
Secondly, will the Minister take back to the Chancellor and the Prime Minister the strong view of all local authority leaders in the east Midlands and Yorkshire, as well as Members of Parliament and of this House, that if we are going to have a high-speed line, 21st-century technology, for the western part of the country but leave the eastern part of the country still subject to Victorian technology, it would be the equivalent of our great Victorian forebears building the railways to go up to Birmingham and Manchester but leaving canals to serve Derby, Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds? As a strategic future for the country, that would be a disaster.
My Lords, I would add, on the railway system, that the new trans-Pennine link is as important as the eastern leg of HS2 and is particularly important for Bradford. I remind everyone that Leeds is now the biggest conurbation in Europe lacking a mass transit link.
I welcome the conclusion of this deal, but with qualifications. It provides West Yorkshire with some of the additional funds it needs. It builds on the constructive co-operation of the councils over the past 15 years. It provides for a spokesman for the region, in the shape of an elected mayor, but it does not fulfil the promise of the 2019 Conservative manifesto, which set out the aim of
“full devolution across England … so that every part of our country has the power to shape its own destiny”.
The funds this deal provides are conditional, and in a number of separate packages, subject to continuing central oversight and partisan ministerial interference—slush funds, as the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, said. The mayor will join other city mayors across England without any institutionalised structure for representing their concerns to Whitehall, as we have seen in ministerial resistance to intervention from existing mayors over recent months. I understand that some Conservative MPs are now opposed to devolution as such, and that a few may even oppose this order in the Commons tomorrow. In today’s Yorkshire Post, Philip Rycroft, formerly a senior official concerned with constitutional issues, called what the Government are proposing “a mess”.
We should have had a devolution White Paper by now, setting out the Government’s plans for the whole of England, as others have mentioned. Instead, we have had plans to parcel up bits of Whitehall departments and scatter them across the country, taking directions still from Whitehall. The commission on democracy that the manifesto promised has disappeared. This deal is not what councils in Yorkshire asked for. They wanted a Yorkshire regional authority. The Government are forcing city mayors on unwilling communities. A Populus poll last year showed 27% of voters in Yorkshire supported a full rollout of city mayors, while 31% preferred the established collective council model and 30% were not sure. That is hardly a vote of confidence.
Throughout this year, we watched the Government bypass local councils, giving generous contracts to consultancies and outsourcing companies to set up test and trace schemes while ignoring the local expertise and experience that councils possess. People in Yorkshire have noticed UK Ministers consulting the three devolved Administrations in detail while failing even to inform existing mayors and local councils of shifting plans for lockdowns for schools. There is, and the Minister must realise this, a growing consensus across England that we would be better governed if there were real devolution within England rather than detailed central control, with favoured deals for Conservative target seats from Cabinet Ministers.
So, I welcome this only as an interim arrangement. It transfers funds to West Yorkshire to improve transport, manage flood risk, support local business and improve adult education, but it is not enough. If this Conservative Government are to fulfil their promise to level up this country, as the Prime Minister regularly repeats, the centre will have to transfer substantial powers and financial autonomy to cities and regions outside the south-east. The Prime Minister waffles on about promoting the Anglo-Saxon model of democracy across the world, yet, around us, this country is moving towards a constitutional crisis. Our voters are increasingly disillusioned with all parties. Ministers are attempting to bully the Electoral Commission and to raise sharply the limit for campaign spending. The Prime Minister has misused the royal prerogative against Parliament and overridden the House of Lords Appointments Commission. Scotland and Northern Ireland are beginning to move away from the union. Against that challenge, this modest improvement in funds transferred to West Yorkshire, with a mayor whose voice is likely to count for little at the centre, deserves, at best, a lukewarm welcome.
My Lords, I draw the attention of the Grand Committee to my relevant registered interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
I am pleased that the order is before the Grand Committee today. It is progress in delivering another devolution deal, as the Government like to call them, but several issues need raising. I do not like this odd patchwork which the Government seem so keen on, and I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, will recall my many interventions in this regard. There is also the issue of where we go forward with this type of model in Yorkshire as a whole, and then there is the question of the powers and the small sums of money that accompany this type of arrangement.
But before I comment on any of that, I pay tribute to Mark Burns-Williamson OBE, the police and crime commissioner for West Yorkshire. He will be standing down when his term comes to an end, as this deal transfers the office and powers of the police and crime commissioner to the new mayor of West Yorkshire. Mark has done an excellent job since his election as the PCC in 2012, and prior to that he served as the chair of the West Yorkshire Police Authority and as an elected councillor.
Looking at this model, I am not sure how much power is devolved, and it feels a lot like the powers that the former West Yorkshire County Council had prior to its abolition in 1986. That is not a view that only I have expressed; I saw that Michael Meadowcroft, the former Liberal MP for Leeds West, had the same view. I also think that at least 20 of the 22 authorities in Yorkshire have expressed support for the One Yorkshire model, which the Government will have to address at some point. This feels to me like a very temporary arrangement.
I am very much in support of proper devolution of power, and this is something the Government will have to focus on if they want to keep the United Kingdom intact. That means giving up power at the centre and giving it to the regions and nations that make up the United Kingdom, but I do not feel that they are ready to do that yet.
The sums of money on offer are also very small— £38 million is all that is actually on offer—and it will cause significant problems for whoever is elected as the first Mayor of West Yorkshire. I hope that it will be my honourable friend in the other place, Tracy Brabin—the Member for Batley and Spen who is the Labour and Co-operative candidate for West Yorkshire—but whoever is elected, I wish them well in this important role.
I agree with the comments of my noble friend Lord Blunkett and the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, in looking forward to the leader of Leeds City Council, my friend councillor Judith Blake, joining the Labour Benches in the next few weeks.
The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, raised important points about the consultation. Again, I have raised these points many times before. If you look at the number of people who engage in these consultations, they are small—I think it was 4,000 people, but 2.5 million people live in this area. These are very small numbers to gauge, and the Government must look better at how to get more consultation. As I said, all that is guaranteed is funding of £38 million a year.
The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, and my noble friend Lord Adonis raised the issue of why the planning infrastructure powers have not been devolved, and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, can give us a full response there. I also agree with the concerns raised by a number of noble Lords about the issue of HS2 and the eastern leg possibly being dropped or delayed. That would do immense damage. I lived for many years in the East Midlands, and the thought that the eastern part of our country will not get the same attention as the western part is, I think, of concern to many noble Lords.
My noble friend Lady Taylor of Bolton raised again the issue of the practicality of the elections and the count afterwards. I hope the noble Lord will take these points back to his colleagues in government and make some clear announcements urgently, because otherwise it risks another shambles, with last-minute panic changes. Thinking particularly about the count, that was a really important point my noble friend raised; I tabled some parliamentary Questions on these issues yesterday. We have to get this right, because there would be no point announcing these things if the elections are postponed at the last minute. Candidates, councils and returning officers need to know what is going on.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, is right about the east-west connectivity in terms of Leeds and Bradford. They desperately need a mass transit system to deliver that.
In conclusion, it is good as far as it goes, and, in that sense, I will support the order before the Grand Committee today. However, major issues have been raised by a number of noble Lords which we need to look at as we move forward. This certainly cannot be seen as the end; it can only be the start of a process to level up our country.
My Lords, we have had a very constructive debate this evening involving thoughtful contributions from real experts—two former leaders of Sheffield City Council and a former leader of Kirklees Council. I will take the opportunity to respond to some of the points raised.
All I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, is that the English devolution and local recovery White Paper will come forward in due course, and I am sure that will be clarified. I accept his support and that of the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, for this devolution, and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, who I think gave half a loaf of support. I also accept the lukewarm support of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy; that is better than no support at all.
Turning to an issue raised by my noble friend Lord Bourne and others, on 29 October 2020 the consultation on the Planning for the Future White Paper closed, having received 40,000 responses, which are currently being considered. Should legislation be required following consideration of these responses, we will look to bring that forward in the autumn.
The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, raised a number of issues about the difficulties of holding elections, which were also referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. The Prime Minister has been very clear that postponing elections needs a high bar. The legislation clearly provides for the elections to take place in May, and that remains the position, although it will be kept under review. Advice will be provided to returning officers to ensure that polling stations are safe and Covid secure for voting, and we are considering options to support voters who are instructed to self-isolate shortly before or on the day of the poll.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, referred to the approach and asked whether there are options. The approach was that of a consultation, and there were some 4,000 responses—the largest number to any combined authority consultation of this kind. In fact, the Consultation Institute gave a commendation of good practice to the combined authority that carried out the consultation.
I also point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, that the London Assembly model is the only one that has a level of government above the level of councils with responsibility for asking questions of the mayor. What we have here is the norm: a combined authority where local government—the five councils, in this case—is hard-wired in with the mayor and the mayoral combined authority. That operates very successfully in Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and all the other places where we have mayoral combined authorities. London is a unique model in having a tier of government that gets to ask questions of the mayor. Personally, I am not sure that that is the way to go.
The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, showed his strong support for single strategic authorities. It is well known that if you devolve clearly and effectively to a single decision-maker in the form of a mayor and they cover a functional economic area, that has huge benefits in driving the performance of a particular region—in this case, a city region. We continue to develop that. City region-type devolution now covers 41% of English residents, and that is a substantial figure to build upon.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, raised the issue of adult education, which enables the West Yorkshire Combined Authority to develop the skills that local employers need, reducing skills shortages, boosting productivity and economic prosperity and improving well-being in communities.
I point out to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, that regional transport decisions are devolved to the mayor. It is not the case that we will ever see national infrastructure devolved, although strategic planning and the strategic infrastructure levy will begin to operate when the position on planning reform is clear. We are committed to phase 2b of High Speed 2 and I am happy to recommit to our commitment, if that will help in any way.
This order, which is widely welcomed by the people of West Yorkshire, is a significant development for the city region and will make a significant contribution to the future prosperity of West Yorkshire, enabling it to action vital economic recovery following this Covid-19 pandemic. I commend the order to the Committee.
Committee adjourned at 7.15 pm.