George Osborne has promised to end the deadlock over talks to devolve powers and money currently controlled by Whitehall to West Yorkshire in a matter of weeks.
Councillors have become increasingly frustrated by the failure to agree a so-called ‘devolution deal’ for West Yorkshire despite agreements being reached to shift powers to South Yorkshire and Greater Manchester.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg recently pointed to the Treasury as the source of the delay but the Chancellor today insisted handing over powers was central to the Government’s vision of creating a ‘northern powerhouse’.
He said: “A powerhouse needs power and I can tell you today that by the Budget I hope to agree a devolution deal to give the West Yorkshire Combined Authority the same kind of devolved powers as the recent Sheffield City Region devolution deal including powers over skills and support for business.
“And my door is always open to cities who want to take even greater control over their own affairs.”
Mr Osborne and Mr Clegg have clashed over the handling of devolution with the Chancellor keen to see areas taking on more powers also adopt elected-mayors with Mr Clegg insistent that there should be no preconditions.
The Chancellor’s comments suggest that West Yorkshire’s deal will be closer to South Yorkshire’s than the more extensive agreement which was struck with Greater Manchester which agreed to move to a mayoral system.
Councillors in West Yorkshire have insisted they are willing to consider such a move if the deal on offer was significant but that such a major shift is not warranted by the level of devolution currently being offered by Ministers.
West Yorkshire Combined Authority chairman Peter Box said: “Devolution is essential to our plans to make this the most enterprising part of the UK so I welcome the fact that we do now have a confirmed timescale for an agreement even if it is long overdue.”
The Budget, on March 18, is the latest deadline put forward for agreement of a West Yorkshire devolution deal.
Mr Clegg last year suggested that agreement could be reached by December’s Autumn Statement.
That date passed and Christmas became the next target date.
There is a concern that the lack of an agreement soon could mean talks have to be suspended for the General and local elections.