Nineteen Yorkshire Leaders unite for ‘One-Yorkshire’ devolution which an independent study concludes would be a ‘Functional Economic Area’ boosting the economy by an additional £30bn per year – Can Whitehall say, “No”?
As the matter of leaving the European Union continues to dominate UK politics and news, matters regarding Yorkshire devolution seem to have been placed firmly on the back-boilers and those in Whitehall responsible for delivering it seem to have become reluctant to involve themselves in the subject. Perhaps symptomatic of this is the fact that in just three years since the EU referendum campaigns began we have had three Communities & Local Government Ministers (Clark, Javid & now Brokenshire) and three Northern Powerhouse Ministers (Wharton, Percy & now Berry). However, despite Whitehall’s apparent intransigence, real progress has been made in Yorkshire.
Gone has the bickering over the geography of devolution between leaders of Yorkshire’s councils. Now Leaders of 18 of Yorkshire’s councils have formed a coalition committed to Yorkshire being devolved as one. Also, whereas all four Council Leaders in South Yorkshire were at odds with the ‘One Yorkshire’ idea, this has now been reduced to just two since residents ballots run in Barnsley & Doncaster showed that 85% of voters preferred One-Yorkshire devolution over Sheffield City Region. The Leaders of Sheffield and Rotherham refused to run such ballots but other research has shown that if they had been run, their residents would also have voted in favour of One-Yorkshire. In addition to this, South Yorkshire is now led by a Metro Mayor, Dan Jarvis, who was elected on a commitment to One-Yorkshire and who has joined the coalition to gain devolution on that basis.
The coalition, now of 19 leaders, has commissioned an independent study into the feasibility of One-Yorkshire devolution and this has concluded that Yorkshire is a Functional Economic Area which with devolution could add £30bn per year to the economy. The Deputy Director General of the CBI, JoshHardy, said of the report, “I think the data produced recently is very, very compelling for a Yorkshire-wide deal. It shows the many billions that it could add to the local economy”.
So Yorkshire has got her act together! The job in hand now is to persuade Whitehall to do likewise and to make them see that the benefits Yorkshirewide devolution would bring would significantly alleviate the economic uncertainty regarding the matter with which they are currently so preoccupied.
But will they listen?
YDM have put the case to James Brokenshire, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government, and to Jake Berry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Northern Powerhouse, that devolving Yorkshire as one will mean a strong Yorkshire and that a strong Yorkshire means a stronger UK at a time when the UK needs as much economic certainty as possible. We have also strongly suggested to them that in order to resolve the stalemate regarding Barnsley and Doncaster wanting to be part of One-Yorkshire whereas Whitehall want Sheffield City Region to be fully implemented first, all the Ministers need to do is confirm that each of the four South Yorkshire councils will be free to join One-Yorkshire two years after SCR has been fully implemented.
Although the proposed One-Yorkshire would not provide the model of devolution we desire, it would provide most of the geography and some of the powers we aim to achieve. We see it as a first step rather than the end of the journey and support it on that basis. We have therefore continued to campaign for a directly elected Parliament for the whole of the traditional county of Yorkshire with powers inferior to no other devolved administration in the UK.