ELECTED mayors are needed in Yorkshire to help stem a brain drain to the South and make sure the region can capitalise on the burgeoning digitial industries says a leading thinktank.
The Policy Exchange warns that more than half of graduates from leading universities leave Yorkshire after they graduate in a new report published today.
It says that while cities such as Leeds and Sheffield might struggle on their own to attract the “clusters” of technology companies seen in other parts of the world they could do so in partnership with other cities in the North.
And the report argues that the needs of business can best be met by elected mayors rather than a complex web of local authorities.
Report author Eddie Copeland said: “The technology industry is bringing considerable benefits to the UK economy but it is failing to live up to the Chancellor’s wish for it to benefit every corner of the country.
“The question for policymakers is how to extend the sector’s benefits to other regions, especially England’s northern cities so we can create ‘Silicon Sheffield’ or ‘Silicon Sunderland’.
“The Government does not need to subsidise the cost of doing business in the North – it is already significantly cheaper than London.
“What technology businesses do want is local political leadership with the power and accountability to be responsive to their needs.
“It is time for the Government to put rocket boosters under the idea of directly elected Mayors. They are best suited to understanding the distinctive challenges facing their locality.”
The Policy Exchange report points out that while the Government has spoken of digital industries as a way of growing the UK economy as a whole, so far technology jobs and prosperity have been “highly concentrated” in London, the South East and Cambridgeshire.
It identifies transport as a key area where improvements are needed to help northern cities work together.
The report says: “The government has indicated an interest in building a high speed rail link between Manchester and Leeds.
“That idea should be considered carefully, but policymakers must be aware that travel between other cities including Newcastle, Liverpool and Sheffield is also very slow by both rail and road, suggesting that attention needs to be given to the wider transport needs of the North.”
The Policy Exchange report comes just weeks after Chancellor George Osborne raised the idea of elected mayors as he outlined his vision of creating a “northern powerhouse” that can compete on the global economic stage by improving connections between the cities.
He has promised to put the northern powerhouse idea at the heart of his Autumn Statement which is expected to include an offer of powers and money to areas which choose to have elected mayors.
However, voters in Yorkshire cities rejected the offer of elected mayors two years ago and there remains considerable scepticism about the idea in the region.
Last week, northern council leaders presented the Chancellor with a blueprint to transform transport links by spending £15 billion over 15 years.
Mr Osborne will look at further reports from the chairman of high speed rail firm HS2 and on the future of scientific research in the north before setting out his proposals for delivering the northern powerhouse idea in the autumn.