Yorkshire needs to 'stop mucking about' and agree devolution deal, says former Teasury adviser

Councils in Yorkshire that have failed to agree devolution deals with the government need to 'stop mucking about' or risk being left behind as powers are distributed from Whitehall, according to a leading economist and former government adviser.

Jim O’Neill speaking at the event yesterday
Jim O’Neill speaking at the event yesterday

Jim O’Neill, former commercial secretary to the Treasury and former chief economist at Goldman Sachs, was speaking yesterday at the Institute of Economic Development Annual Conference 2017 in London.

In September, plans for an elected mayor for the South Yorkshire city region fell apart after constituent councils failed to agree what powers it would have.

Earlier this month, it was reported that Yorkshire authorities were close to agreeing a devolution deal for the whole region, but nothing was announced in this week’s Budget.

O’Neill, who also chaired the Cities Growth Commission, contrasted the situation in Yorkshire with the North of Tyneside area, which was the subject of a new devolution deal in the budget.

O’Neill said: "I’m very pleased to see so-called North of Tyneside getting some devolution powers yesterday. It should be a big message, especially to any of you from Yorkshire here – there’s a game the government is sticking to and if you want to have more responsibility and powers, stop mucking about. It’s a very clear message to me."

Elsewhere, O’Neill warned that some places "have to be more sensible than fiddling around with the stupid politics that’s dominated them for the last 40 years or so".

O’Neill said he did not think that devolution was "as big a priority" for the current administration compared to his time in government with George Osborne as chancellor.

But he said: "The fact that the devolution deal for North Tyneside announced yesterday is a really powerful message that they’re sticking to the basic principle."

O’Neill said he suspected that once the government signs off deals with the "three or four bigger urban areas", they would shift their attention to less urban areas, including counties.

"Let the urban places get their deals and rural areas will follow," he said.

What makes the Northern Powerhouse unique was the potential close relationship between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield, O’Neill added.

"It’s what I call it ‘Man-Sheff-Leeds-Pool’," he said. "Those four cities happen to be a shorter distance than the length of the Central Line. If you can unify the whole of the 8 million people living in that area as one single market in terms of consumers and producers, that would be a game-changer for the UK."

But he said the North needed to improve educational outcomes and skills to make the Northern Powerhouse a success.

In another session, Naomi Clayton, policy and research manager at the Centre for Cities think tank, said: "Some of the fears of other places that don’t have devolution deals falling behind seems to be playing out. There are big questions for what’s next for Leeds, Sheffield and other areas across the country."

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