A widely-lauded £1bn fund to revolutionise the local transport network still isn’t in the bank, it has emerged.
The West Yorkshire Plus Transport Fund promised to create 20,000 jobs and boost the local economy with a major infrastructure programme.
But the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, a body set up specifically to manage the fund, still has not secured three-quarters of the cash after it was prevented from hiking people’s council tax bills.
The Combined Authority was officially formed yesterday.
One of its board members, Bradford Council leader Councillor David Green (Lab), said they were still locked in negotiations with the Government about finding the money another way.
He said: “I think there will be announcements about the first tranche of transport schemes fairly soon, but we are still waiting for information from the Government about how they are going to partner us in funding the proposed £1bn fund.
“At the moment, we haven’t had that information, so while we might be able to announce some initial priorities, we clearly need that agreement from the Government to allow us to create the real step-change in infrastructure.”
Coun Green accused Communities Secretary Eric Pickles (Con) of having “moved the goalposts” by stopping them from raising the cash needed through a Council Tax levy.
Last year, Mr Pickles’ department said such levies would now be included in rules which limit council tax rises to less than two per cent a year without a referendum.
Bradford Chamber president Paul Mackie yesterday spoke of his frustration at the situation, saying it was the Government which had announced the £1bn fund.
Mr Mackie said transport improvements, such as better roads and parking, were “essential for business and the wider public”.
He said: “It’s disappointing and frustrating that the Government has now chosen to bend the rules in this way. Politics is interfering with economic development and growth.”
Potential alternative funding streams being negotiated with the Government include a ‘payment by results’ method.
This would involve the Combined Authority borrowing the cash needed to improve local transport links, then asking the Government to repay it using some of the extra tax money raised by the resulting economic growth.
When asked who would bear the cost if the district’s economy did not improve enough, Coun Green said there were discussions about the Government and the Combined Authority sharing this risk.
No-one was available for comment at the Department for Communities and Local Government yesterday, but last year Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis said: “The passenger transport executives are unelected bodies. If quangos want to hike up council tax, they should get the consent of local taxpayers.”