Elected mayors ‘will boost business’ – Minister

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BUSINESS leaders were last night urged to back the creation of powerful new mayors in Yorkshire cities to ensure the region ‘punches its weight’ on the international stage.

Cities Minister Greg Clark argued that places such as Leeds, Bradford and Sheffield needed recognisable individuals to “bang the drum” as they compete against other cities around the world to attract investment.

He told TheBusinessDesk.com: “Cities compete with each other internationally, it’s not just Britain competing with Germany competing with India. Leeds competes with Frankfurt, competes with Bangalore, competes with Beijing. For investment and exports in terms of promoting the city there is increasing recognition if you don’t have someone who is visible on the international stage as well as the national stage you are going to suffer a competitive disadvantage.

“At the moment the fact you have relatively low profile, nationally and internationally, councils in West Yorkshire has contributed to a sense that this part of the country punches below its weight.”

Referendums to establish elected mayors will be held in Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield and Wakefield at the same time people vote in council elections next month. Cities that choose to have directly elected mayors will hold elections for the post in November.

Mr Clark spoke to an audience of business leaders at the Leeds office of PwC last night alongside former Labour Cabinet Minister Lord Adonis to call for a ‘yes’ vote on elected mayors in Yorkshire.

Lord Adonis pointed to the fact that Leeds City Council had been a “hung” authority for many years as an example of why clearer council leadership was necessary.

“Businesses understand the concept of strong effective leadership. Local authority leadership has too often been anonymous and lacking in strength.

“Leeds for a long period was a hung council with alternating leaders every six months. I cannot think of a business that would dream of running itself like that.”

At the event, hosted by the Leeds, York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, business leaders argued that the creation of three new elected mayors in Wakefield, Leeds and Bradford would encourage greater economic competition in the area rather than cooperation through bodies such as the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership.

Mr Clark suggested that three mayors were more likely to find it easier to cooperate than hundreds of councillors.

However, he also backed the idea of the creation of a “combined authority”, following an example set by Manchester, where councils create a single body to share powers in key economic areas.