Yorkshire’s future must be placed into the hands of those who live and work in the region.
The era of centralisation, at least eight decades long, is slowly coming to an end as the main political parties beginning to hand back control.
But this process has so far failed to offer funding, failed to empower Yorkshire and failed to inspire.
The problem of accountability grips senior civil servants. A study by the think-tank IPPR North found that “Whitehall departments are loath to concede even the smallest function, fearful of the prospect of Ministers being hauled before parliament to account for failings on a distant, local level”.
Yet the economic benefits of taking that devolution risk are clear, and should be recognised by a Treasury keen to grow the economy.
With cities outside of London lagging behind in growth, there is, as the IPPR report found, growing evidence that England’s 80-year-long experiment with centralisation has failed.
Local places will never be sufficiently empowered to drive the growth we need unless we share the Government’s most important lever – funding.Lord Heseltine
As the Core Cities group found when it looked at the issue, “empowered cities can be more competitive and can be incentivised to grow faster” with the potential to add “at least £1.3bn additional growth into the national economy”.
Even the recent welcome steps by the Government towards devolution are not without their shortcomings. It says something about Whitehall that the devolution promise is only available to those who work on London’s timetable, and can be trusted to do as the Government wishes.
The result has been winners and losers across the North, with city regions played off against each other. The next Government should seek to end this by carrying out an open door policy of devolution on demand, letting councils who think they are ready for more power come forward as they wish with their own plans.
And to make sure there is no return to the days of playing off one council group against another, the next Government should publish a statement of intent setting out its long-term ambition for devolution in the North, making clear how it will hand the North a say over transport, housing and job creation.
All this though will be nothing without one thing. Money.
As Lord Heseltine made clear in his No Stone Unturned report, “local places will never be sufficiently empowered to drive the growth we need unless we share the Government‘s most important lever – funding”.
The message was drilled home by the Communities Select Committee when it set out the barrier to devolution.
“English local authorities, when compared with their counterparts in other developed nations, have limited control over local taxation and, as a consequence, rely, by comparison, disproportionately on central Government funding,” the committee said.
Yorkshire can no longer be handed a deal over one road or a say over a key train route without the power and the money to make these decisions.
The need for this renewed focus was made clear the day after the Scottish independence referendum.
To cite the Communities Select Committee report, “if such powers are considered justified and workable in Scotland and Wales, why not in England?”.
Increased devolution for Scotland cannot be right if English cities and counties are not also freed from London’s inflexible grip.
English devolution should be a priority for the next Government.
IN FULL: OUR YORKSHIRE MANIFESTO...