Decisions made in West Yorkshire, for West Yorkshire

The Combined Authority considers how devolution deal signed in March is already reaping benefits for region in wake of COVID-19

On 4 September, the landmark West Yorkshire devolution deal will be discussed at a meeting of the Combined Authority. In light of COVID-19, the meeting will review how the deal has already had a positive impact by giving the region greater influence and powers to support its economic recovery.

Since West Yorkshire’s council leaders agreed the devolution deal in March, the Combined Authority has started the process of taking greater control over adult education funding across West Yorkshire so skills and training can better support the needs of local people and businesses. This is critical at a time when employees and employers alike are facing unprecedented challenges and skills will be at the forefront of how the region adapts and succeeds.

The Combined Authority has also secured significant new funding for transport and housing, available only to devolved regions, safeguarding jobs and promoting economic growth. This will give West Yorkshire greater control on vital aspects of social and economic infrastructure to ensure the region emerges stronger from the pandemic.

At its 4 September meeting the Combined Authority will also formally consider the outcome of what has been the largest ever consultation into English regional devolution. Members will be asked to agree to submit a summary of the consultation findings to Government and start the parliamentary process to bring the devolution deal into law.

In a joint statement, the Leaders of West Yorkshire Councils said: “We can’t say it enough: devolution will be a real game changer for West Yorkshire. Signing the deal has already started to have benefits. With more powers and funding coming to the region, it means more of the decisions that directly the lives and livelihoods of the people who live here will be taken here by those who know the region best.

“Even ahead of mayoral elections in May next year, work has started. We’re taking steps to make adult skills and training more relevant to our people and the needs of businesses, and securing money to help develop vital infrastructure, housing and transport.”

Three key areas in which the benefits of devolution are already being seen are:

Targeting skills and training: Following consultation with stakeholders across West Yorkshire, the Combined Authority is expected to approve the Adult Education Budget Strategy, allowing it to take control of the £63 million Adult Education Budget from 1 August 2021.

Taking over control of the Adult Education Budget means the Combined Authority will be able to make sure that skills provision in West Yorkshire supports helps adults develop in-demand skills they need to enter and stay in work, or enroll in an apprenticeship, traineeship, or other learning and meets the needs of businesses as the region recovers from COVID-19.

The Combined Authority is proposing that AEB funding is used to increase the supply of skills to support key sectors and improve West Yorkshire’s resilience by identifying and delivering the skills needed for the future.

Developing sites for housing: Through the devolution deal, £3.2 million of funding has been made available to develop the West Yorkshire Strategic Housing Pipeline, a longlist of regionally significant housing sites, over the next two years.

This funding has become more important following the recent announcement of the £67 million Brownfield Housing Fund (BHF) and £52.6 million Getting Building Fund (GBF), which will play an important role in generating economic growth, and creating and safeguarding jobs in construction and other industries as the region recovers from COVID-19.

Transforming transport: The region has also received £317 million of investment to improve journeys by bus, rail, bike and on foot for up to 1.5 million people across Bradford, Calderdale, Craven, Harrogate, Kirklees, Leeds, Selby, Wakefield and York, in one of the biggest allocations nationally from the Transforming Cities Fund.

Already the Transforming Cities Fund is making a difference to West Yorkshire with key projects moving forward, including better access to Bradford Interchange, a new bus station for Halifax, an upgrade of the bus station at Huddersfield, major works to the front of the Leeds rail station, and steps to remove traffic from Wakefield city centre.

Through the devolution deal, the Combined Authority is able to exercise the same freedoms and flexibilities available to other mayoral areas to provide further investment to the Transforming Cities Fund schemes, and to manage delivery of the programme locally. It will also have access to a five year London-style transport fund from 2022-23.

Next steps to devolution: These are all early indicators of the many other benefits that people in West Yorkshire will see when the devolution deal is fully delivered.

Together with West Yorkshire’s five councils, the Combined Authority will be asked to submit a summary of the consultation’s findings to the Secretary of State for Communities, Housing and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, along with a draft “order” setting out new governance arrangements for the mayoral combined authority.

If the Government is satisfied that these arrangements will improve how functions such as transport, adult skills, housing and development are delivered in West Yorkshire, and that they reflect the identities and interests of local communities, the parliamentary process to establish the mayoral combined authority will begin, with the first ever West Yorkshire mayoral elections held in May 2021.

The Combined Authority’s meeting will be held virtually at 14.00 on Friday 4 September 2020 and will be live-streamed here.