Plans published for new body to drive economic growth in West Yorkshire

Sent on behalf of the Association of West Yorkshire Authorities

Proposals for a new legal body to manage investment worth £1.5bn in West Yorkshire’s transport and economic infrastructure will be published on Monday. The investment includes significant funding devolved from Whitehall as part of the recent City Deal.

If agreed, the West Yorkshire Combined Authority would focus on driving economic growth through a joint approach to strategic investment and transport across the Calderdale, Bradford, Kirklees, Leeds and Wakefield districts.

A review of existing arrangements in West Yorkshire, also being published on Monday, concluded that bringing together key decision-making powers into a single body would put West Yorkshire and the wider Leeds City Region in a much stronger position to tackle its shared economic challenges such as increasing labour market participation, promoting skills and addressing current levels of economic activity.

The review also cites the strong economic links between the five districts, with 96 per cent of West Yorkshire’s residents both living and work in the area, as a key rationale for formalising existing governance arrangements in West Yorkshire. By working collectively, the review concludes that the five districts can fully to punch their combined economic weight.

The West Yorkshire councils will be asked in July to formally agree to the creation of the Combined Authority and submit the plans to Government. Subject to parliamentary approval, Government will establish the new body and devolve significant new powers and funding to it from April 2014.

Establishing a Combined Authority is a key requirement of the Leeds City Region ‘City Deal’, which was agreed with Government last year and gives partner councils and the Local Enterprise Partnership greater control over economic investment and decision-making. The transport element alone is expected to deliver 20,000 jobs and grow West Yorkshires economy by over £1bn a year.

Cllr Keith Wakefield, Chair of the Association of West Yorkshire Authorities and a member of the Leeds City Region Leaders Board, said:

“Setting up this Combined Authority is critical if we want to secure significant national funding and investment, and if we want to ensure that funding decisions that affect our region are taken locally by those that understand local economic conditions and what is needed to stimulate local growth.”

Neil McLean, existing Chair of the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership and Roger Marsh, incoming Chair, welcomed the proposals. In a joint statement they said:

“The LEP very much welcomes this important step forward in unlocking the significant new powers and funding agreed through the City Deal. If the proposals are agreed, the LEP is committed to being an active partner member of the Combined Authority, and to continue working across the public and private sectors to ensure that business views are represented in decision-making, and that our shared ambitions for economic growth in the Leeds City Region are achieved.”

Alongside promoting economic development, the Combined Authority will take on responsibility for Metro’s role as the Local Transport Authority for the area and, in doing so, will create a streamlined, integrated delivery body.

Leader of Calderdale Council, Councillor Tim Swift said:

“We have recognised that by working with our neighbours in West Yorkshire, we can secure major new investment, particularly in the region’s infrastructure, which would stimulate economic growth, creating jobs and helping businesses to thrive.

“Setting up the Combined Authority is the next important step in ensuring we have a say in how this investment develops, and in making the best use of our unique position in the Leeds to Manchester corridor to help drive investment and benefit from this new approach.”

The plans for how the Combined Authority will operate have been finalised by West Yorkshire Council Leaders following a public consultation process, in which 70 per cent of respondents agreed with the proposals, for this new collaborative model.

These plans are detailed in a draft ‘scheme’ covering membership, voting, powers, functions, scrutiny and funding. Proposals cover the inclusion of City of York Council and the Leeds City Region LEP Chair as partner members, to ensure effective links with the wider functional economic area and with the business community. All three major political parties will also be represented on the Combined Authority if the plans are approved.

If the proposals are approved by the five West Yorkshire Councils, the Combined Authority will start to meet in shadow form from September 2013, in advance of its anticipated formal establishment in April 2014.

The Council Leaders are keen to engage local partners, including residents, in further developing the plans for the Combined Authority. If you would be interested in having your say then please visit West Yorkshire Combined Authority(external link) where more details on how to get involved will be published shortly.

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