By Grahame Anderson

Official public consultation has closed regarding turning West Yorkshire’s £1.8bn devolution deal into law also facilitating the appointment of a Mayor. As a consequence the deal will also see the Combined Authority take over control of the £63m annual Adult Education Budget next year.

West Yorkshire will also receive £25million to create a British Library North. Asian Sunday has also learned Around £317million will be available to spend on public transport, walking and cycling routes and improvements, with a further £3.2million made available for new housing across the county.

More than 4,500 people had their say on devolution plans for the area.

This represented the biggest ever response to a consultation, which ran from May 25 to July 19, over English regional devolution.

Elected Mayor

The new Mayor would oversee an impressive budget to control things like the transport infrastructure, housing, regeneration and the economy. What’s more three years later he or she would take over police and crime powers similar to the system in both London and Greater Manchester.

The Government has said: “The deal will devolve a range of powers and responsibilities to the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, supporting the region to drive economic growth and prosperity within its communities and across the North of England.

“It will build upon the area’s history of collaboration to maximise this investment and increase its contribution to national economies.”

The findings of the consultation will be discussed in public over the coming weeks at virtual meetings involving, Leeds, Wakefield, Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees councils alongside a similar meeting of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority.

West Yorkshire Combined Authority

The West Yorkshire Combined Authority said in a statement: “This deal will give us greater flexibility to take decisions to address local concerns without asking permission from Whitehall and Westminster.

“That will include the ability to intervene more directly in local transport and in the operation of local bus services.”

Possible Candidates

In terms of appointing a Mayor to oversee these exciting changes, the political parties have all been asked to take a close look at who might have the best opportunity of winning the election next May. This has already thrown up some interesting names, but not everyone has to be well-known of course.

Huddersfield Giants chairman and businessman Ken Davy has been suggested, alongside Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield, Hugh Goulbourne, a Huddersfield-based lawyer, Green Party candidate for Hemsworth Lyn Morton and former Green Party councillor Hawarun Hussain.

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the Dewsbury-born former Minister, has been approached by Tory MPs about running, seeming to be an obvious choice given her popularity and experience. Our sources say however, she’s already decided she does not have the time at this stage of her life to take on what would be a huge role.

The MP for Batley and Spen Tracy Brabin revealed: “I’ve been approached by Labour members to think about it, and I’m sure there’s lots of other people who have had the same approaches. As someone who has advocated for the devolution deal it would be an honour to do it, but at the moment I’m very much focussed on the recovery from the coronavirus.

“I do think whoever it is, it’s got to be someone who has the reach and can work with opposite numbers, and we’ve got some really good examples of that in our Labour groups.”

It’s worth noting any MPs who choose to stand would more than likely be instructed to trigger a by-election in their seats. This will certainly have a big bearing on who does come forward.

Important Leaders

Amreen Qureshi, researcher for the IPPR North think tank, said: “ Elected Mayors are among the most important political leaders in the country, and the creation of a Metro Mayor for West Yorkshire means 62 per cent of people in the North of England will be able to vote for a Mayor in next year’s elections.”

Joint Statement

In a joint statement, West Yorkshire’s five council leaders, councillors Susan Hinchcliffe, Tim Swift, Shabir Pandor, Judith Blake and Denise Jeffery, said: “We would like to thank everyone who took part in this consultation and are looking forward to fully considering the views that so many of our residents have taken the time to share in our full council meetings.

“The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted, more than ever, why it’s important that decisions which affect local people are taken locally, by people who understand local communities and are accountable to residents.

“Devolution means that more of these vital decisions will be taken here in West Yorkshire and will provide greater investment to help our region recover from the pandemic.

“It’s encouraging, therefore, that most people who responded to the consultation support the proposals on the table.

“We will be taking just as much interest, however, in some of the other comments provided so that the way we approach devolution in West Yorkshire truly addresses local people’s concerns.

“In particular we are pleased that funding has been provided through this deal for the Yorkshire Leaders Board to continue collaborating on a Yorkshire-wide basis on a number of key issues.”

In the coming weeks Asian Sunday will be taking a closer look at the list of contenders.