Like party crashers stumbling through the front door of an all-night rave at 8am the following morning, Hull and East Yorkshire have finally arrived at the devolution ball.
The likes of Greater Manchester and Tees Valley have already been there and done it on the dancefloor with their respective high-profile elected mayors now established political figures beyond their own boundaries.
Similarly, the rest of Yorkshire has also embraced devolution with voters in York and North Yorkshire due to elect their first mayor next year.
Devolution for Hull and East Yorkshire
Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire’s delayed entrance into the fray was belatedly confirmed this week in Jeremy Hunt’s autumn statement, subject to a public consultation and formal approval from the two local councils. It promises to be the region’s biggest local government shake-up since the abolition of Humberside County Council in 1996. But what does the prospect of a mayor-led combined authority actually mean for an area often seen as being out on a distant geographical limb from the rest of the country, never mind the rest of Yorkshire?
The feeling of anonymity runs deep in the local psyche, ever since wartime censorship meant Hull could only be referred to as “a North East Coast town” in newsreels and newspapers. Today some would suggest a strong streak of independence also prevails as a result.
First ever mayor of Hull and East Yorkshire
Under the current timetable, the first ever mayor of Hull and East Yorkshire will be elected in 2025. Predicting who might fill the role is less easy to pin-point from this distance when, as recent events have proved, a mere week can often seem like a very long time in politics.
The most recent benchmark is this year’s elections in both council areas, when all the seats in the East Riding and a third of the seats in Hull were contested. Between the two areas, the Liberal Democrats polled the most votes with a combined total of 42,312. Labour attracted 34,707 votes while the Conservatives polled 32,030.
That suggests a fairly even three-way battle between the main parties although it’s worth pointing out that a combined total of just over 19,000 votes were cast for other candidates.
There’s also the small matter of a looming general election and its immediate aftermath to take into consideration when trying to forecast a likely winner.
If the current national polls are accurate, Labour is set for a landslide victory. If that happens, a mayoral election in Hull and East Yorkshire will take place in a much-altered wider political landscape with Keir Starmer in charge at 10 Downing Street.
Labour’s current policy on devolution doesn’t take what is currently on offer to Hull and East Yorkshire much further, although it does suggest more involvement with local universities.
Potential mayoral candidates
Likely mayoral candidates are also hard to envisage at this stage.
Current council leaders Anne Handley, who heads the Conservative-led East Riding, and Mike Ross, her Liberal Democrat counterpart in Hull, will undoubtedly be front and centre on the issue over the coming months, but will they fancy the mayoral role in the long-term? As Labour MP Dan Jarvis proved during his recent stint as South Yorkshire’s elected mayor, it’s a job that can be juggled with another at a push.
Other potential runners mentioned in the past include current Conservative MP for Brigg and Goole Andrew Percy and former Labour MP for Hull West and Hessle Alan Johnson.
They would certainly fit the bill should a well-known figure with strong Westminster connections be a requirement, but local gossip suggests the pair are unlikely to throw their hats into the ring.
Proposed devolution deal
Under the terms of the proposed deal, the new mayor would be in charge of annual investment funding worth £13.3mn per year. Like devolution deals elsewhere, this core budget is supposed to be guaranteed for 30 years, yet we currently have a government that struggles to offer one-year annual financial settlements to local councils. It’s also a drop in the ocean compared to what councils receive once those settlements are finalised, prompting critics to wonder whether a new generation of metro mayors are genuinely equipped with the necessary resources to transform their areas.
The Hull and East Yorkshire deal also includes a now familiar basket of other funding allocations covering just three years. They include a £15mn capital budget to spend on transport, flood and coastal erosion programmes; up to £5mn for economic growth projects including a possible expansion of the Siemens Gamesa offshore wind operation in Hull; £4.6mn for building new homes on brownfield sites; and devolved powers to run adult education services.
There is also scope built into the deal to introduce local bus franchising and develop a mayoral development corporation at some point in the future.
Should it happen, the new-look authority wouldn’t mean the end of the road for the existing councils or their councillors. They would continue to oversee day-to-day services while more strategic issues would rest with the mayor who will also have powers to raise taxes and put a levy on business rates.
Hull and East Yorkshire’s Cinderella moment has arrived. Whether it has a fairy tale ending remains to be seen.