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Posted on Fri 12th Sep, 2014 in: Influence, Public Relations by Tim Downs

Next Thursday (18th), the Scottish independence referendum will decide if there is any future in the 300-year-old union that has existed between England and Scotland. Inevitably here in the Yorkshire and Humber, this will reignite the debate over the need for greater devolution in the region and, even in some corners, whether we too could go it alone. In parallel to this, we have the chief executives of Leeds and Manchester City Councils in Leeds next Wednesday to discuss, amongst other things, the creation of a Northern 'super city'. And George Osborne is talking about the "serious devolution of powers and budgets" to regions such as Greater Manchester and Merseyside that introduce London-style mayors. So with all this talk of independence, devolution and 'super cities', what direction is our ability to self-govern likely to take? Despite Yorkshire boasting that if it was independent it would have finished 12th in the London 2012 medal table (Scotland would have finished 36th by comparison), it's highly unlikely that there will be a referendum on independence anytime soon. It's also worth pointing out that Leeds rejected the opportunity for an elected mayor back in 2012, so the chancellor's stated desire of devolving powers more quickly to those that follow London's mayoral model, rules that out. What's interesting about this is that in some recent business roundtable events I have attended, this model actually got some real support. And the only candidate name that drew anything close to a consensus was Welcome to Yorkshire's Gary Verity. More importantly, the Leeds City Region LEP has secured £573 million worth of funding from the Government's latest Local Growth Fund allocation. This is allocated to homes, transport and skills projects and forms part of £2 billion of settlements to LEPs in this round of funding and £12 billion that has been committed overall to date. It is through the LEPs, and the combined authorities that they represent that we are starting to see the first seeds of financial devolution. In our region the West Yorkshire Combined Authority is now looking at the £1 billion West Yorkshire Transport Fund and taking decisions on where and when that funding should be spent. Ultimately if these organisations are already being geared up to hold the purse strings then they will naturally be the bodies that control and administer devolution. What this doesn't help explain is what exactly happens when it comes to organising and funding pan-region projects such as the proposed "HS3"? Trans-Pennine rail improvements. Will neighbouring LEPS, elected mayors and combined authorities be expected to form agreements amongst themselves and agree who is funding what? Or will we be going, Oliver-style, to central Government asking for more? And furthermore, if the power to raise and keep taxes is agreed at a local level - which will need to happen if the dream of being in charge of our own destiny is to even get off the ground - how do we agree who contributes what and who gets what, at a regional level? I'll be asking these questions of Tom Riordan and Howard Bernstein on Wednesday 17th September at the Downtown in Business event and you can do the same by registering here.  

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