Does increased appetite for devolution amongst politicians translate to the public being more ‘devolution aware’?

With the post referendum turbulence, the on-going crisis in the middle-east and the presidential elections in the USA dominating the news, one could be forgiven for thinking that nothing much has happened on the question of Yorkshire devolution.  However, quite the opposite is the case! But how aware are the public of this? 

For some time the media has been telling us of constant bickering over the geography of devolution between leaders of councils in North, East and West Yorkshire and that South Yorkshire is going-it-alone in the form of a Metro-Mayor for Sheffield City Region.  Consequently we have been told that a Yorkshire-wide settlement would not happen.  Yet, compare that to the news we hear today.

We are now hearing of more and more councillors and MPs, including Andrew Percy, the Minister for the Northern Powerhouse, calling for a Yorkshire-wide devolution settlement.  We are hearing that the South Yorkshire ‘deal’ is in shatters due to opposition to having to have a Metro-Mayor and due to the rightful legal challenges by Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire over the inclusion of parts of their respective counties.  We are hearing that there are now calls from South Yorkshire councillors for the idea to be scrapped in favour of an All-Yorkshire settlement and we noted that The Financial Times has recently reported that West Yorkshire are on the brink of accepting a Pan-Yorkshire deal. What we are not hearing of is any meaningful involvement of the public in any of this.

We commissioned a survey across Yorkshire to understand, amongst other things, the current demographic position of the Yorkshire people regarding awareness of the devolution debate. The survey was reported in September and the results have been published on our website and in the press.

The survey found that 54.8% of the respondents did not feel at all well informed about the proposals for devolution and that only 1.9% considered themselves well informed, the rest being somewhere in between. Whilst we are pleased that the survey also showed that of those favouring some form of devolution nearly 55% wanted a Yorkshire parliament, this stark lack of awareness and understanding of the devolution debate amongst Yorkshire’s public has to be a great concern when politicians are pushing some form of devolution in Yorkshire closer and closer to reality.

What we can take from this:

With devolution now being firmly on the agenda and therefore being a matter that will inevitably directly involve and effect the public, the public must have a far greater awareness and understanding of the subject than they currently do. The key message to take from all this is that whilst politicians continue to exclude the public from the devolution debate and to make decisions on devolution behind closed doors, the percentage of the public who have a reasonable awareness and understanding of devolution will struggle to increase. In turn, when the devolution politicians have decided upon behind closed doors is implemented and the public is required to elect its leaders, turnout is likely to be so poor that no real mandate will be achieved. YDM believe that any devolution should be implemented through a bottom up process rather than being imposed on the public from above.

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