In this section:
- One voice for Yorkshire
- Why Yorkshire
- Why the traditional county of Yorkshire
- Why a Yorkshire Parliament
- Why Full Devolution
- Why subsidiarity
- A Conversation for Yorkshire
- Some relevant YDM posts
The highly centralised government in England has not exactly worked in Yorkshire’s favour over the years. The lion’s share of public spending gravitates towards London and the South East leaving Yorkshire and some of the other regions of England as the poor relations. The Barnett Formula and the existence of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish devolved administrations protects, to some extent, the public sector budgets of those countries whilst leaving those of Yorkshire and some of the other English regions even more exposed.
Unlike in London, there is no regional administration in Yorkshire. Yorkshire Forward used to be the Regional Development Agency for Yorkshire and Humberside but this is now no more so, in effect, Yorkshire has no representation at the regional level. There is no regional transport strategy, no regional energy strategy, no regional industrial and economic strategy; in fact, it is probably fair to say that there is no regional strategy at all. There is no one voice to speak out for Yorkshire.
Yorkshire tends to lose out in terms of public sector investment. Key spending decisions are made in either Westminster or Whitehall and most capital projects are micro-managed from Whitehall. Many Yorkshire projects simply never get approved in the first place. Failure to invest in Yorkshire has meant that the Yorkshire economy has under-performed for many years. Our transport infrastructure is creaking and unless urgent action is taken on this and on many other issues; now! not at some future time when it might better suit the government; Yorkshire will fall even further behind and will not be in any position to contribute to the Northern Powerhouse initiative. We estimate that, in order to bridge the North/South divide, the shortfall on public sector capital spending in Yorkshire will need to be made good at the rate of £10BN per year for the next 10 years, in other words around £100BN over the next 10 years. This should do no more than bring us into line with London.
Current devolution proposals involving city regions are restricted to limited powers over specific topics and the sums involved are relatively tiny. This will do no more than scratch the surface. They will not address the imbalance at all. In addition, as many of the issues that need to be tackled cover the region as a whole, these will be outside the scope of individual city regions as they do not have the remit, scale or resources to address these problems. Add to this the continuing financial pressures on council budgets and the future of the city region concept looks bleak.
From our research, it is apparent that many issues such as policing, health, education, transport and industrial and economic policy would be better dealt with at the regional level. A regional administration would be much more logical than the current proposals of combined authorities, city regions, quangos, councils etc. but the Government fails to see this. The current devolution proposals have not been subject to proper public consultation or any kind of democratic endorsement. The idea of metro mayors was rejected by several cities in the referendums of 2012. Current devolution proposals will do nothing to improve democracy and public accountability. The current electoral system at both national and local level is biased and unrepresentative and the current devolution proposals could make it even worse.
Because Yorkshire does not have a central administration and does not speak with one voice, the Government seems to think that it can chop and change the boundaries of the county as it sees fit. This happened in 1974 and now we are faced with further significant changes, a considerable price to pay for no apparent gain. Our civic leaders do us no favours by apparently being unable to speak for the county as a whole. We believe that neither the Government nor our “civic leaders” have a proper mandate to enact the changes that are being proposed.
One Voice for Yorkshire:
Yorkshire needs a voice. We need a body or someone to speak up for the county as a whole, to speak for the people and to represent their interests. Without a strong voice there cannot be proper representation for Yorkshire at the regional level. We will not be able to take full advantage of being Yorkshire men and women. We will not be able to take full advantage of the Yorkshire brand. We will not be able to take advantage of all the opportunities offered by a regional tier of government, for example, regional transport, housing, health, economic and education strategies. We will not be able to take full advantages of all the synergies offered by such regional strategies and we will not be able to take advantage of all the economic opportunities that could be offered up by a dynamic regional government.
Yorkshire needs to be able to speak with one voice so that the county can be seen as a unified entity. Look at the bickering between local authority leaders over the current meagre devolution offerings. Because we do not speak with one voice, our local authorities are acting in, what they perceive, as their own interests which may be totally at odds with those of neighbouring communities. So city regions would like powers devolved to them rather than the county as a whole whilst at the same time offering to take on some of the best of what is left. None of these areas has the scope or scale to act as a region and clearly cannot act for Yorkshire as a whole. As a region we need to be taken seriously and this bickering between local authority leaders is projecting exactly the wrong kind of image. Such immature behaviour does not instil confidence in the authorities concerned and certainly does not raise the profile of the region.
A strong united Yorkshire speaking with one voice should have an assured future. A group of fragmented local authorities without the vision to see what is in front of them will remain a group of fragmented local authorities. In looking at the best form of regional government, our detractors need to ask themselves why it is that Scotland and Wales are represented by their respective legislatures and not, for example, by Glasgow or Swansea. Sometimes the logical choice is the best choice and that logical choice just could be a Yorkshire Parliament.
A united Yorkshire administration would allow us to do away with a great many of the quangos created by central government and would allow us to take advantage of the economies of scale offered by the size of the region whilst maintaining and enhancing, where appropriate, local accountability.
Yorkshire needs to speak with one voice to preserve the integrity of the county, to stand up for the rights and interests of the people and to protect our future. Yorkshire needs to speak with one voice to promote our region and our values within the UK, within Europe and throughout the world. Yorkshire needs to speak with one voice to establish itself as a force to be reckoned with and to be respected. The Yorkshire Devolution Movement is campaigning for that voice!
In respect of area, population and economy, the traditional county of Yorkshire compares with those parts of the UK that have already been granted devolution, as follows:
Only Scotland and Wales covers a larger area –
Only London has a larger population –
Only London and Scotland have a larger economy –
These statistics show that, on each basis, Yorkshire is better qualified to be a devolved entity than most of the parts of the UK that have already been granted devolution. Like Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Cornwall, Yorkshire also qualifies on the basis of being a recognised cultural region with a unique heritage and strong identity. In fact, of all the bases on which parts of the UK have qualified for devolution, there are none on which Yorkshire does not qualify.
Whilst it is clear that the traditional county of Yorkshire qualifies to be an integral devolved entity, here are some reasons why we believe it should become one:
- Decisions affecting Yorkshire would be made locally rather than having to rely on distant politicians in central government.Thereby:
- Decisions would be made by people who understand the needs of Yorkshire best.
- Decisions would be reached more frequently and actions implemented sooner.
- Yorkshire’s economic, social and environmental potential would be realized more rapidly and effectively.
- Once Yorkshire has become a devolved entity, it will be in a position to negotiate more powers in more matters away from central government by which Yorkshire can achieve even greater benefit
- As a devolved entity, Yorkshire would benefit from being able to negotiate better procurement deals, attract more inward investment and capitalize fully on the ‘Yorkshire’ brand resulting in job creation, economic growth and increased profitability.
- As a devolved entity, Yorkshire should be in a position to use more of the revenues from its taxation and natural resources on regional infrastructure and public service projects so that more of the money raised in Yorkshire stays in Yorkshire.
- Granting devolution to an integral Yorkshire will respect the heritage of Yorkshire, recognise the Yorkshire identity and satisfy the need to belong (to Yorkshire). This will motivate the Yorkshire people to achieve for their county and therefore for the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ and the whole UK. Devolving to false regions and fragmenting Yorkshire will fail to capitalize on that motivation and actually demotivate people by being seen as a threat to their heritage, identity and need to belong. The undoubted success of the Grand Depart of the Tour de France in 2014 and the determination to make it happen at all is testament to how Yorkshire is motivated when acting in the name of their county.
- Unlike a fragmented Yorkshire, a united Yorkshire would provide ready-made cohesion across the region and therefore be better placed to make Yorkshire and the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ successful.
- Greater benefit would be gained from the synergy of needing the management structure and assets of only one authority to deliver infrastructure and public service requirements throughout Yorkshire than would be achieved by needing the management structures and assets of several authorities.
- Greater benefit would also be gained by a united Yorkshire because, unlike a fragmented Yorkshire, there would be no need to rely on collaboration agreements with other authorities in Yorkshire to deliver pan-Yorkshire projects. Thereby increasing efficiency, effectiveness and speed of delivery.
- The diverse economy of a united Yorkshire would offer greater protection against adverse market forces than would the economies of individual parts of a fragmented Yorkshire which rely on much fewer market sectors.
We believe that devolution on a Yorkshire-wide basis gives the right balance between decentralisation and functionality so that Yorkshire can prosper as an entity itself whilst making significant contribution to the success of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ and the UK in general.
Why the Traditional County of Yorkshire:
The administrative boundary of Yorkshire has been the subject of successive government imposed changes, particularly since 1974, which have resulted in it bearing no resemblance to the traditional boundary and in great swathes of Yorkshire being placed under the administration of other regions and/or non-Yorkshire local authorities, as shown in the illustration below.
The boundary around the area marked in red and pink represents the traditional county of Yorkshire.
The boundary around the area marked only in pink represents the Local Authority Areas of North, East, West & South Yorkshire.
The areas marked in red represent those parts of Yorkshire placed under other regions and/or non-Yorkshire local authorities as a consequence of administrative boundary changes imposed by Central Government in London. Going anti-clockwise from top-right, they are:
- Redcar & Cleveland and Middlesbrough to the North-East region and Yarm, Thornaby, Kirklevington & Ingleby Barwick to Stockton Borough Council in North-East region
- Former Startforth Rural District to County Durham Council in North-East region
- Former Sedbergh Rural District to South Lakeland District Council of Cumbria County Council in North-West region
- Bowland & West Craven to Pendle Borough Council and Ribble Valley Borough Council of Lancashire County Council in North-West region
- Saddleworth to Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council of Greater Manchester in North-West region
- Fockerby & that part of Eastoft west of the Old River Don to North Lincolnshire Council
Yorkshire has existed as an integral entity since the early 7thC when known as ‘Deira’. It was renamed ‘Jörvikskyr’ in the 9thC by the Danes who settled there after defeating its Angle leaders. The Danes organised Yorkshire into three administrative areas, each third called a ‘thridjungr’ which became ‘thriding’ and then ‘riding’ as we know today. The administrative boundaries of Yorkshire remained almost unchanged for over a thousand years until the Local Government Act 1972 was implemented in 1974. The heritage of Yorkshire is unique and such depth of heritage has led to the Yorkshire identity and the attachment of the Yorkshire people to their county being as strong as that of any nation. Yorkshire Devolution Movement believe that such depth of heritage and identity deserve respect and conservation, not disregard and alteration at the whim of remote politicians without any reference to the Yorkshire people. It is our heritage and our identity and like ‘Scotland’ means Scotland, ‘Wales’ means Wales and ‘Cornwall’ means Cornwall, ‘Yorkshire’ should mean, Yorkshire!
In 1975 the Yorkshire Ridings Society (YRS) was founded to protect the integrity and the ongoing recognition of the County of Yorkshire and her three Ridings in response to the confusion caused by the administrative boundary changes implemented in 1974. Since shortly after launching our Yorkshire Boundaries Campaign in 2019, YDM & YRS have been working collaboratively to achieve those goals by having signs installed marking Yorkshire’s traditional boundaries, particularly in those areas most adversely affected by that confusion. Other organisations who we gratefully acknowledge for actively campaigning to end the confusion over counties generally, include: Association of British Counties, Wikishire, British Counties Flags and British Counties Campaign.
Why a Yorkshire Parliament:
We believe that the right model of devolution for Yorkshire is one which:
Brings politics closer to the Yorkshire people and gives them greater involvement in decision making.
Gives maximum transparency and accountability in respect of the decision making process, decisions made and who made them
Offers representation which most closely reflects the political make- up of the Yorkshire electorate
Has the best ability to represent the interests of Yorkshire in every respect
Is best placed to secure the further devolution of powers to Yorkshire to a position of full devolution
Is most able to ensure appropriate subsidiarity is implemented within Yorkshire
It is the opinion of the Yorkshire Devolution Movement that a Yorkshire Parliament directly elected by the Single Transferable Vote is the model most suited to satisfying all the foregoing points.
Whilst constituency MPs for the UK Parliament provide an interface between the public and Westminster, any parliamentary debate or decision making process regarding issues concerning Yorkshire would rely on MPs who will spend the majority of their time debating and making decisions on non-Yorkshire issues and rely on a majority of MPs who do not represent Yorkshire’s interests. Constituency MPs for a Yorkshire Parliament (MYPs), however, would still provide the interface between people and parliament but the issues raised would be debated by MYPs who do spend the majority of their time, if not all, on Yorkshire issues and only by MYPs who do represent Yorkshire’s interests. A Metro Mayor model of devolution would not provide the mechanism to bring the Yorkshire people closer to politics and the decision making process because that model would have no interface with them other than periodic mayoral elections.
A Yorkshire Mayor, although giving some degree of accountability in that he or she would be ultimately responsible for all decisions, would not offer the same accountability as a Yorkshire Parliament. Whereas decisions made in a parliamentary system would be debated and concluded by MYPs known to the public, as the public would have elected them, decisions made in a mayoral system would be debated by a panel of unelected advisers not known to the public, prior to the mayor concluding the decision. As a Yorkshire Parliament would be a public arena and MYPs public servants, this would also offer far greater transparency than a mayoral system where issues would be debated by non-public servants in a non-public arena.
As a mayoral system consists of a single person elected to represent the people, it would be impossible for that representation to reflect the political make-up of the Yorkshire electorate unless the mayor elected received 100% of the vote. Representation in a parliamentary system would much better reflect the political make-up of the electorate simply because it consists of a number of people elected to represent them. However, there have been many complaints that representation via the current ‘first-past-the-post’ method of electing MPs does not reflect the political make-up of the electorate sufficiently as only votes cast to the winning candidate in each constituency effectively count in the make-up of parliament. This can be overcome by ‘Proportional Representation’ (PR) of which there are two basic types: ‘Party list PR’ and ‘Single Transferable Vote’ (STV). We believe that, of the two methods, STV produces representation that most reflects the views of the electorate because it allows the most votes to effectively count in the make-up of parliament.
A mayor, being a single decision maker, will make decisions that are influenced only by his or her own political views or by those of the political party to which he or she belongs. Unlike a parliament, this means that any actions taken by a mayor will not be based on a balanced view or be effectively regulated by others with different political views involved in making the decision. Also, allegiances to nationwide political parties would leave scope for a mayor to make decisions for Yorkshire which are influenced externally and there would be little to keep such activity in check, thus diminishing the quality of devolution Yorkshire would actually enjoy. A parliament is therefore the better option to represent the interests of Yorkshire in every respect and the most appropriate to securing the further devolution of powers to a position of full devolution. In respect of the latter point, a parliament is also able to exert greater demand for further powers as it would be demanded by an overall majority of MYPs rather than by a single person.
As the aim of subsidiarity is to achieve decision making at the lowest level able to deal with matters effectively, it can only be deemed ‘appropriate’ if its implementation is decided on a ‘bottom-up’ approach. As a parliamentary system has a better interface with the public through its constituency MPs, it is better placed than a mayoral system to gain the bottom-up feedback that would be required and to collaborate with the different stakeholders involved to ensure ‘appropriateness’ is achieved. A parliament is also best placed to ensure political bias and external influences are eliminated from the consultation, planning and implementation stages and that the whole process is dealt with in a transparent and accountable manner, as explained in previous paragraphs.
Why Full Devolution:
It has to be a basic principle that all parts of the UK enjoy equal democratic entitlement. Yet, this has certainly not been the case since devolved powers were granted to just four of the twelve Government Regions of the UK in 1999. This created five-tier democracy in Britain where Scotland, N Ireland, Wales, Greater London and the remaining regions enjoyed different degrees of decision making powers respectively from Scotland having the most to Greater London having fewer and on to the remaining regions, all in England, having none at all! In order to correct this imbalance, firstly, all parts of the UK should either be a devolved region or be within a devolved region and, secondly, all those regions should be entitled to devolved powers equal to the highest degree of devolution already existing within the UK.
Merely correcting the democratic imbalance would not go far enough. There is also a great economic imbalance between London and the rest of the UK that must be tackled. London’s economy is more than three times that of Yorkshire’s. Yorkshire Devolution Movement believe that the only way to close that gap and to prevent it widening further, is by regions having the powers they need to put to full effect their intimate knowledge of their localities and their drive to realise their full potential; powers that allow them to raise revenues as they see fit; powers that allow them to retain revenues and monies from natural resources for re-investing in their economies; powers that allow them to create the circumstances to attract inward investment and so on. In brief, we believe that the only way regions can compete with London is if their powers continue to increase to a position of full devolution as a prequel to the creation of a federal UK where the only matters reserved by central government are UK-wide matters such as defence, home office etc. After being devolved since 1999, Scotland are pretty much in a position of full devolution now; we therefore believe that achieving a UK where all regions have full devolution by 2030 is a realistic target.
Devolution is defined: “The transfer or delegation of power to a lower level”. In the true spirit of devolution, we believe that the transfer or delegation of power should not end at regional level from central government but should continue from regional level to sub-regional level and from sub-regional level onwards so that each level can benefit from appropriate powers. This will allow the level with the best appreciation of an issue to make decisions in respect of it without having to refer to a higher level which has a lesser appreciation of the issue and which has issues relating to its own level as primary considerations. This subsidiarity will inspire people by empowering them and we believe it will culminate in better decisions being made more quickly to deliver the most benefit and fastest progress to everyone throughout Yorkshire.
A Conversation for Yorkshire:
So far there has been no proper public consultation exercise on the future arrangements for the governance of Yorkshire.
It was Labour Party policy several years ago to set up a public led Constitutional Convention to determine the future of the UK’s governance but such an exercise is not currently on the Government’s agenda. There has been some public debate on the Government’s current devolution proposals in the media and at public meetings but this has been very limited and certainly does not amount to a meaningful consultation process. The government has ignored the result of referendums held in some cities which came out against the introduction of elected mayors and continues to pursue its own agenda of extremely limited devolution tied to the acceptance of elected mayors for those areas prepared to accept the conditions imposed.
In 2014 the YDM launched an appeal to Local Government Leaders in Yorkshire for them to take ownership of such a “conversation” with their public. Unfortunately the Leaders chose, instead, to reach consensus among themselves and decided to push for devolution under a single mayor for “One Yorkshire“, somewhat misleadingly named as its geography excluded those parts of Yorkshire outside the ‘Yorkshire and The Humber’ Region. Despite this proposal falling short of YDM’s aims, the detail produced in support of it did highlight many positive factors relevant to them such as that it would add an additional £30bn per year to Yorkshire’s, and therefore the UK’s, economy each year. However, Whitehall rejected the proposal (giving no meaningful reason) and as a consequence, Local leaders seem content to pick up the crumbs on offer and lesser deals have been done behind closed doors.
Excluding local people from the process of making local decisions of such importance and impact is neither devolution nor democracy. The concept of a meaningful Yorkshire Conversation is as relevant as ever!
Some relevant YDM Posts:
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