Deal us in for chance to seize power: Angus Young on the Hull and Humber City Deal
Council leaders from around the Humber have joined forces with business leaders to secure devolved powers from Whitehall. Angus Young reports ...
ONE theory concerning the origins of the Humber's title is that it owes its name to an Anglo-Saxon phrase meaning "black or dark river".
The ever-present mud probably had something to do with it.
Today, however, the estuary offers a ray of hope amid the gloom of job losses, factory closures and the continuing demise of the high street.
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For the stretch of water, which runs from Faxfleet to the North Sea, is being used to fuel an attempt to revive the region's fragile economy and put it firmly back on the map.
Submitted formally to the Government yesterday, the Hull and Humber City Deal aims to build on a series of cross-estuary policy milestones achieved over recent months.
They include a deal to write-off part of the Humber Bridge debt and reduce tolls on the crossing and the creation of the Humber Local Economic Partnership.
Both have featured the region's four councils coming together with the business sector to respond to the Government's view of what life should look like following the abolition of regional development agencies like Yorkshire Forward.
Thanks to the continuing squeeze on public finance, that view features precious little new funding from Whitehall.
Instead, ministers are offering a new wave of so-called city-regions decision-making freedoms.
The idea is to cut through the often complex and lengthy process of dealing with different Government departments and national agencies by devolving decision-making powers to local leaders.
The theory is that this, in turn, will encourage economic growth.
Glossing over last week's claims by former city council leader Colin Inglis that all four authorities had secretly been "fighting like rats in a sack" in recent months. the City Deal submission takes cross-Humber co-operation one step further.
Its key proposals include:
The creation of a new board overseeing employment and skills issues with direct access to devolved Whitehall funding to spend on priority areas.
More local decision-making on funding support for existing business wanting to improve the skills of their staff.
Increased work experience opportunities promoting careers linked to the Humber estuary with a particular focus on renewable energy.
The creation of a Humber investment bank to offer loans to businesses and specific growth projects.
Local agreement on priority infrastructure projects in exchange for better coordinated responses from statutory bodies to help speed-up the planning process.
The latter is, perhaps, the most obvious for people to get their heads around.
For example, less red tape could bring forward the much-delayed upgrade of the A63 at Castle Street in Hull city centre.
If the bid is successful, will it create just another talking shop ?
Cities minister Greg Clark, who is overseeing the process, says that is the last thing he wants to see.
He said: "We want to ensure that cities have a suite of powers that give them the flexibility to respond to local challenges as they arise.
"Bespoke arrangements will be complemented by a core package, consisting of measures that will devolve significant powers to cities that go on to negotiate a deal with Government.
"This will capitalise on the progress we have made so far, demonstrating our commitment to the devolution of powers from central to local government if local areas are willing to offer significant reform in return."
The reform in question is more cross-Humber co-operation between neighbouring councils.
The local bid's title offers a clue to this joined-up approach, while the region's four council leaders have already agreed to sit on a new board overseeing City Deal issues along with two representatives from the LEP.
Significantly, the board would also have full legal powers to make decisions without referring back to the individual councils.
East Riding Council leader Councillor Stephen Parnaby said: "It is important for the people and businesses of the area that we establish the Humber as the UK's energy estuary.
"The Hull and Humber Deal provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the four local authorities and businesses to work together with central government to ensure that decisions affecting economic growth can be dealt with at a Humber-wide level by the people who know the area best."
The recent decision by former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine to accept an invitation to work with the Humber LEP on steps to boost the region's economy will also involve initial work on the City Deal if it is confirmed.
LEP chairman Lord Haskins said: "The City Deal would be an important step forward for the development of the Humber.
"It would speed up major developments and help us to make sure that investors can access the skills they need locally.
"The LEP and the local authorities have worked together on this very closely and very well over the past few months and we will shortly have an opportunity to go further still when we begin our work with Lord Heseltine."
City council leader Councillor Steve Brady said: "We are looking forward to the outcome of the City Deal and the chance to speed up investment and gain more control to help the region thrive economically.
"The national attention on the region with the City Deal and Heseltine report is very welcome and reassuring that we can really make something happen."
The Government is expected to announce which city has secured City Deal status in February.