A devolution deal creating a powerful metro mayor for West Yorkshire could be done by March after local leaders and government Ministers agreed to start formal negotiations today.
West Yorkshire council leaders today met with Exchequer Secretary Simon Clarke and Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry in Leeds city centre in what was described as "a genuinely collegiate and productive meeting".
When the meeting finished they confirmed that the Government had "now fired the starting gun on formal devolution negotiations in West Yorkshire".
Mr Berry said: “We will now work our socks off over the coming weeks with a view to agreeing a deal in time for the Budget in March.
“While positive progress is being made in West Yorkshire and Sheffield City Region, I will also ensure that no area in the Northern Powerhouse is left behind in the dash for devolution.”
Mr Clarke, a Tory MP in Middlesbrough, said in a statement: “Very positive talks and I thank the West Yorkshire leaders for a genuinely collegiate and productive meeting. We’re looking forward to taking this forward and tackling the finer details at an official level in the coming weeks, so that we can have a deal signed in time for the Chancellor’s Budget statement in March.”
The progress made at today's meeting at the headquarters of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority could bring an end to the long-running devolution saga in the county.
While areas such as Greater Manchester, Liverpool and the Tees Valley have all secured deals which have seen a range of powers and hundreds of millions of pounds handed over in 'gainshare' funding to invest in local priorities, West Yorkshire leaders have not been able to secure agreement with Ministers.
Local officials say progress is now being made with the arrival of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, who has pledged to create devolution deals around the country as part of his 'levelling up agenda'.
On Monday Sheffield City Region metro mayor Dan Jarvis and council leaders in South Yorkshire launched a public consultation which could see its £30m-a-year deal finally passed into law by June.
It is understood that the West Yorkshire deal is likely to be worth more because of the area's larger population, though negotiations are still continuing on how much funding will be handed over and the geographical area to be covered by the deal.
Mr Berry said: "While the negotiations are often the hardest bit of agreeing a deal there is a shared ambition to drive this and to see a ground-breaking, exciting devolution deal for West Yorkshire and the Leeds City Region."
The Northern Powerhouse Minister has also met with officials from Hull, the East Riding and North Lincolnshire this week and is hoping for a meeting with leaders from North Yorkshire and the City of York as part of what he describes as a "dash for devolution".
West Yorkshire Leaders said in a statement: “Today’s meeting was positive, giving both sides the chance to set out the opportunities and challenges in terms of agreeing a Leeds City Region devolution deal.
“We have agreed the basis upon which civil servants and officers will progress discussions in the coming weeks with a joint commitment to move forward as quickly as possible.
“It is essential any deal meaningfully transfers powers and money and helps us deliver the ambitions we have for all our communities.
“We look forward to meeting with Ministers again in the near future to review progress.”