City leaders across the country have given a mixed reaction to chancellor George Osborne's conditional offer of devolution based on directly elected mayors, with at least one city region reconsidering its position.
Cllr Peter Box, chairman of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, had in the past argued metro mayors were unnecessary, however his authority has now confirmed it will consult local people on introducing a directly elected mayor in exchange for extra powers from Whitehall.
He suggested in the light of this new offer the issue had to be reconsidered despite highlighting the significant opposition to elected mayors in the past.
‘There has been a referendum in Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield and Kirklees and all of those referendums gave a resounding no to an elected mayor,’ he said.
‘We have been told if we want more devolution an elected mayor is the only option and clearly there's a decision to be made on whether we remain as we are with the devolution we've been given already, or seek to gain more devolution.
‘There are two issues. Firstly, we need to find out the detail from George Osborne in terms of extra power and resources. Secondly, once we know that we need to go out to the public, businesses and organisations that would be affected and ask what are their views. Once we know the answer to that we can go back to George Osborne.’
Joe Anderson, the elected Labour mayor of Liverpool said councils should ‘grasp the offer with both hands’ and independent elected mayor of Bristol George Ferguson also supported the devolution thrust.
‘Give us the means and we will find a way not only of running our cities but also of contributing to the wealth of the UK’, he said.
However Keith Wakefield, departing leader of Leeds City Council accused the chancellor of ‘limited thinking’ while Jon Collins, leader of Nottingham City Council went further and accused the chancellor of making a political move.
‘Making a single model the price of devolution will only weaken it, he said.
Cllr David Sparks, chair of the Local Government Association, said: ‘The proposed devolution of transport, housing and policing powers is great news for our larger cities but we want to make sure that the benefits of devolution reach every corner of England and the United Kingdom.
‘This will require different approaches to both governance and the powers needed for different areas, rather than a one-size-fits-all solution.
‘We are now urging government to go further and set out a new settlement for all of England which devolves decisions on important issues like skills, housing, transport, care and infrastructure. This is vital if the economy is to prosper and good quality public services are to survive.’