We have written to each of the candidates, so far declared, standing for election as Mayor of West Yorkshire to ask for their responses to specific questions of particular interest to readers of our website (see: here). Today we received the third of those responses, from Dr Bob Buxton, the candidate for the Yorkshire Party, as follows:
- What are your policies on transport infrastructure, particularly in respect of HS2 and links across the North such as Northern Powerhouse Rail and Beeching Reversals?
- Where do you place these in order of importance to ‘levelling up the country’?
Transport is absolutely key for levelling up the country. We lag behind the rest of the UK in productivity and transport is the biggest failure driving that disparity.
HS2 will probably not be coming to Yorkshire. The legislation was separated from the Manchester route so that theirs could be passed while ours not. The worst case scenario for Yorkshire is to have £100 billion spent elsewhere and for us to be left even further behind than before – and it seems that’s exactly what’s happening. There is literally nothing the new mayor can do about it.
The new Bradford city centre station is on the verge of being cancelled to save £4 billion. The Sheffield to Manchester motorway and road tunnel have been cancelled and rail electrification is continually downgraded, postponed and cancelled. These cancellations are travesties.
The Yorkshire Party strongly supports a new Hull-Liverpool rail link and a number of rail improvements, as detailed on our transport policy on our website – www.yorkshireparty.org (other transport policies for West Yorkshire will be revealed during the campaign).
Not every Beeching cut can be reversed but several can and should be, to reconnect towns and villages.
West Yorkshire desperately needs a mass transit system. Light rail will revolutionise our economic productivity and enable us to meet an ambitious environmental target. If elected, I will do everything I can to achieve it as my top priority.
Alas, the small budget and powers given to the mayor are wholly insufficient to achieve any of this. The new mayor will have to get Westminster’s approval to fund almost everything and even our share of the £4.2 billion Urban Transport Fund (if Westminster gives us any) will not be enough.
2) What policies, other than the above, do you have to ‘level up the country’?
Education: Primary school kids in London get 50% more funding per year than Yorkshire’s. In the most extreme comparisons, they get more than double. This has to change. Alas, the new mayor has no powers over children’s education.
I’ll use my experience in adult education, for which modest powers are available, to increase career-based apprenticeships (like those I currently teach in Bradford), graduate courses and other schemes where local industry identify skills gaps. There will be opportunities for all, regardless of age and existing qualifications.
Yorkshire can lead the way in green jobs, which I’ve detailed under question 6). Now is the perfect time create jobs in this sector and I have experience of working with industrial leaders from developing a foundation degree in Renewables for Teesside University.
3) With a South Yorkshire Mayor already existing, do you want the creation of a West Yorkshire Mayor to be a stepping stone toward Yorkshire being devolved as one?
- If not, why?
- If so:
What will you do toward achieving that?
It has always been the ambition of the Yorkshire Party to have powerful, properly funded Yorkshire-wide devolution, with a parliamentary model.
Our slogan is Fairer Deal – Stronger Yorkshire. A vote for us in the mayoral elections is a vote for proper devolution, with powers and funding similar to Scotland. Labour and the Tories chase votes; if we can show it’s a vote winner, they will have to follow suit or lose crucial Westminster seats.
We secured over 50,000 votes in the European Elections and the Tories have at least shown lip-service to our positions on equalising education funding in primary schools and transport spending – alas, the spate of cancellations of Yorkshire transport projects have put us back to square one. We haven’t had real action on those fronts and neither the Tories or Labour back proper devolution (though Labour are at least discussing the issue).
Our message to voters is: “Tell them you want proper devolution with your vote.”
With a population and economy more like Scotland than like Manchester, should the model of devolution for an All-Yorkshire government be more like Scotland’s (Parliament) than like Manchester’s (Mayor)?
Scotland. As we saw from the tussle between Andy Burnham and Boris Johnson over furlough pay, Mayor Burnham may speak up for Manchester (and I agreed with him on that issue) but he had no power to act – Boris Johnson short-changed Manchester with only 67% furlough pay, only to impose 80% across the whole country once it was clear London was affected too.
Scotland has the power to make its own decisions, in fact, all three devolved nations have been shown far more respect during the pandemic than northern regions.
And should the powers transferred to Yorkshire be more like Scotland’s than like Manchester’s?
Scotland’s. We need a transport revolution to improve people’s lives, empower the economy, create jobs and meet demanding environmental targets.
Education is another key area for improvement – but the new mayor has no powers whatsoever over children’s education. How is that devolution?
4) Now that we have left the EU, do you believe the EU Regions imposed on England, such as ‘Yorkshire and The Humber’, with which very few people identify, should be scrapped in favour of Traditional Counties, such as Yorkshire (or clusters of Traditional Counties, e.g. Westmorland, Lancashire & Cheshire)?
- If not, why?
- If so, what will you do toward achieving that?
Yes! Regional identities belong to people, not politicians. It was hardly surprising that the Yorkshire Party did much better in Yorkshire than in Lincolnshire in the Yorkshire & Humber European Elections (though our support for the fishing industry got us a few hundred votes from across the Humber).
It’s not just the EU that’s messed with county definitions and, indeed, council areas. The Tories are scrapping North Yorkshire’s small, truly local councils and replacing them with an oversized, unwieldy unitary authority. Councillors in Selby will vote of planning issues in Whitby, and vice-versa. No one asked for this change but Westminster imposes whatever it wants. And, of course, both Labour and the Tories are happy with oversized unitaries in West Yorkshire, as opposed to the smaller councils abolished in the 70s, which people preferred.
Most of all, Westminster has denied us Yorkshire-wide devolution, even though 18 out of 20 councils supported it including all the Tory ones. The Yorkshire Party supports small local councils for the most local issues and powerful, properly funded devolution for the bigger issues, via a Regional Parliament: Fairer Deal – Stronger Yorkshire.
5) What are your policies on electoral reform and constitutional change?
With first past the post, most people vote for losing candidates. Even then, many people feel obliged to vote tactically and not back their genuine first choice. This prevents fair competition and stifles progress.
The Yorkshire Party supports PR. There are different ways to achieve it, including the “Regional-Top-Up” already used in devolved nations.
The good news is that voters have a first and second choice in the mayoral election. This opens the contest out and gives us a real chance.
As for constitutional change, the governance of the country is current top-down: town and parish councils have little power and are over-ruled by unitary authorities, while unitary authorities have to operate within national policy.
Let’s reverse that. If a decision only affects your community, your town or parish council should decide it. If it affects a district, the district council decides and if it affects Yorkshire (or another region) a regional parliament decides. National Government should be for national issues, not for interfering with local issues. This bottom-up approach is normal in many countries – the over centralised UK is the exception. Let’s change it.
6) What are your policies in respect of energy, environment and planning?
I’ll Build Greener Homes, on Regenerated Sites, with New Infrastructure
Let’s start a green jobs revolution in Yorkshire. With fossil fuel prices increasing in recent decades and the UK still reliant on Russian gas, there is no conflict between economic and environmental interest. I wrote a foundation degree course in collaboration with local industrial leaders for Teesside University in 2009 on Renewable Energy Engineering, focusing on wind power and biofuels. Yorkshire already does well with wind power on an industrial scale but we need to introduce subsidies for domestic solar panels and wind turbines, where their use is appropriate. These should also be required in all new larger buildings.
Biofuels are the solution to the air industry debate. The US Department of Defence already produces, uses and save millions each year through biofuels – Yorkshire could set such an example of economic and environmental improvement to the rest of the UK. We also support the continually delayed Leeds Inland Port, which can take millions of tonnes of freight off the road, and support the use of biofuels in the maritime industry.
With so many ex-industrial sites in West Yorkshire to regenerate, we can preserve all greenbelt and sports fields.
I have campaigned to stop Labour building on greenbelt, including floodplains, for 7 years and was delighted to see Leeds City Council’s housing plans defeated in court. The national Tory Government is no better – their proposed new planning policy is a developers’ charter.
Vote for me to deliver the starter homes, council houses and retirement homes that West Yorkshire needs, alongside new infrastructure – dentists, GPs, schools and transport – and greener technology. Unlike your local council, I’ll listen carefully during consultations and build homes where they’re wanted and needed.