Results of a Kirklees consultation into the proposed £1.8bn West Yorkshire devolution deal are to be sent to the Government for consideration despite an extremely low take-up by the public.
Just 4,413 people entered into the consultation. That figure has been damned as “appallingly poor”.
And there are fears that future discussions on how the deal might benefit the borough will not be accorded sufficient weight.
The consultation results, which were approved by a meeting of Kirklees Council’s decision-making Cabinet last week on September 1st, were debated at a virtual meeting of Full Council on September 9th.
Concerns were raised on a cross-party basis about the nature of the deal itself with Greens, the Lib Dems, Independents and some Labour members questioning what devolution means for Kirklees.
Whilst the consultation results were voted through en-masse by the ruling Labour group, Conservatives, Greens and three Independents abstained. Lib Dems voted against the report.
There were some strongly-worded attacks. Clr Andrew Cooper (Green, Newsome) mocked the notion of devolution in the county as “the ‘deal or no deal’ deal.”
He added: “The elected mayor does not represent real devolution. It is simply replacing a remote Westminster politician with a remote individual who is supposed to represent 2.3 million people, which they simply cannot.”
He said it would impose a mayor on the people of the county without a referendum which amounted to “an elected dictatorship, and not a proper democratic body”.
Lib Dem group leader Clr John Lawson (Cleckheaton) said the low response to the consultation revealed “a pattern of antipathy towards mayoral regions” and that the devolution plan was “fundamentally flawed”.
He described the results of the consultation as “over 200 pages of not very much”.
Of the drive to set up a West Yorkshire Mayor he said: “We have a top-down structure imposed on us from central government in a rushed, like it or lump it deal. A deal that spreads not very much money thinly and unevenly across the region.”
For the Conservatives, Clr David Hall (Liversedge and Gomersal) pointed out that “the response rate was barely one in every 500 people from the county,
which is hardly a resounding success.”He added allowing Cabinet to approve the report on consultation results meant that after-the-fact discussions were rendered “redundant”.
Among Labour’s senior Cabinet councillors who approved the report were Cathy Scott and Rob Walker.
Clr Scott (Dewsbury East) revealed her anxiety over devolution and said it risked drowning out the local voice by adding an extra tier to the democratic process.
Clr Walker spoke of “quite serious reservations”.
He said: “This is an offer that we’ve had to accept or face the alternative of a financial punishment beating.
“That’s really why I’ve supported this because I feel if we don’t do that then we will be financially penalised by this government.”
He went on to describe it as “a fig leaf for growing centralisation” and said he didn’t think it was “real devolution”.
That sentiment was echoed by the Liberal Democrats. Clr Andrew Pinnock said he was “pathologically opposed” to putting power in the hands of one person and suggested it could lead to the erosion of Kirklees Council.
He likened the current proposed arrangement to a Trojan horse – that it was not devolution but delegation.
His Cleckheaton ward colleague Clr Kath Pinnock warned that people would have no say in having to pay an extra precept to fund the mayoral authority. She described it as “taxation with no representation”.
Council Leader Clr Shabir Pandor (Batley West) has been a vocal champion of the devolution deal and was among senior figures who met with Chancellor Rishi Sunak when it was signed in March.
He said a deal was vital to prevent West Yorkshire being bypassed by other regions and lagging behind financially.
He said a perfect deal was “impossible” but that what was on the table meant authorities such as Kirklees would no longer have to “jump through hoops” to secure funding that amounted to “peanuts”.
He denied that Kirklees would lose any of its powers as a council and that it would retain the power of veto if an elected mayor was to “overstep the mark”.
He cautioned that it was not feasible to delay the deal further.
The £1.8bn devolution deal includes £38 million per year for 30 years to go into a West Yorkshire Investment Fund with significant freedoms to spend on local priorities.
The Transforming Cities Fund will offer a further £317m and there will be £63m annually geared towards adult education.
March 12 – Devolution deal signed
May 25 – Consultation begins
July 20 – Consultation ends
July 20 to August 23 – Analysis takes place
August 24 – Publication of first report on analysis
Early September – Consideration of final draft report by partner councils and WYCA. Report and outcomes from Full Council submitted to Secretary of State
End of October/early November – Draft order and final consent expected back
November/December – Report goes to Cabinet for final decision