TIME and time again, proponents of city regions argue that devolution is all about economy and that the geography for devolution should be determined only by their perception of ‘economic footprint’.
They say Yorkshire is not an economic unit and use this as the basis of their argument against a Yorkshire-wide devolution deal. This immediately exposes a short-sightedness in their thinking.
Devolution should be about so much more than just the economy – the geography of devolution should be based on far more than only economic footprint. For example, consideration should be given to environmental issues, such as fracking.
One part of Yorkshire can be environmentally impacted upon by decisions made in respect of another part of Yorkshire but whereas devolution via a city region deal would not provide the powers of responsibility for both parts, devolution via an all-Yorkshire deal would, thereby offering greater environmental security to all parts of Yorkshire.
Consideration should also be given to the people themselves: their identity, heritage and loyalties, how they see their geography and how they would be motivated by being listened to and granted devolution according to their wishes.
For instance, Wakefield folk identify with Wakefield and Yorkshire, not Leeds city region, just as Doncaster folk identify with Doncaster and Yorkshire, not Sheffield city region, yet both Leeds and Sheffield residents also strongly identify with Yorkshire.
This demonstrates that city regions are false regions which impose false identities on people; a Yorkshire-wide region would not do so. Instead, it would recognise, respect and reflect their identity as Yorkshire folk and have a motivational advantage over city regions.
Economy is a very important element of devolution but those who dismiss devolution via an all-Yorkshire settlement show their short-sightedness. They fail to consider the economic benefits that can be gained through the synergies of having individual services and agencies that cover the whole of Yorkshire rather than having a multitude of such bodies each covering only their part of Yorkshire.
They fail to consider that ‘Yorkshire’ is a global brand and how an all-Yorkshire government could help maximise the potential of that brand by offering security for inward investment and assisting Yorkshire business in securing favourable procurement and export deals.
They fail to consider how an all-Yorkshire administration would promote and assist business development throughout the county rather than have limited ability to do so in only parts of Yorkshire. They also fail to consider how a Yorkshire-wide body is best placed to implement Yorkshire-wide transport and infrastructure projects without having to negotiate difficult collaboration agreements between neighbouring authorities.
Those who see city regions as the way forward for devolution in Yorkshire base their argument of economic footprint only on their perception of what exists now. They fail to consider what could easily exist in the near future through a Yorkshire-wide deal.
For example, with the improved transport and infrastructure that an all-Yorkshire government would bring, it will become far easier for people to travel further afield from home to work within Yorkshire, thereby extending any economic footprint across Yorkshire and rendering their argument for current devolution geography null and void.
Devolution has been enjoyed in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for the best part of two decades and in none of those cases was the geography of devolution determined by economic footprint.
We have recently seen the first metro mayors elected to several new city regions in England. Of those, Greater Manchester arguably enjoys the greatest extent of powers devolved from Whitehall yet these bear no comparison to the extent of powers devolved to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland; powers for which Yorkshire must also qualify.
Yorkshire is larger than Northern Ireland by landmass, larger than Wales by economy and larger than Scotland by population. Like them, Yorkshire has a distinct and recognisable culture. Like them, Yorkshire is a recognised geographic territory comprising a mix of coastal, rural, urban and metropolitan landscapes. Like them, Yorkshire has a wide range of resources and a diverse economy to match. And like them, Yorkshire deserves the opportunity to maximise her potential by being devolved in the same manner: As one!
Nigel Sollitt is chairman of Yorkshire Devolution Movement.