Stephen Brady: Region needs a united front to power ahead

The Humber Bridge. Hull Council leader Steve Brady makes the case for regional devolution.
The Humber Bridge. Hull Council leader Steve Brady makes the case for regional devolution.
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IN a recent essay for this newspaper, the former Labour MP Austin Mitchell stated that Hull, and me personally, were responsible for the failure to form a Combined Authority across the Humber between Hull, the East Riding, North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire and he criticised the divisiveness that has led to where we are now.

However, he ignores that the original position put forward by Hull was for a Combined Authority across the Humber based on the shared, common economic interests that already exist and that we all want to grow in the future.

I believed then that the best way to compete with the economically overheated London area, and benefit from the emerging Northern Powerhouse, was to unite across the Humber because of its highly interlinked economy. This would have ensured that Hull and its neighbours had a key role to play as part of a larger and strategic powerhouse.

This vision was, unfortunately, rejected by the leader of North Lincolnshire, who threatened a ‘referendum’ against the notion, and by the former leader of North East Lincolnshire, who made it clear that he wanted nothing to do with Hull.

Faced with this and with further developments on the other side of the Pennines and in South Yorkshire, it became clear that what was needed was greater unification and working across the cities along the M62 transport and industrial corridor. This could be the bridge between the two sides of the Pennines and the Northern Powerhouse.

Hence, my support for a Greater Yorkshire Combined Authority which would be achievable given greater unity across the Yorkshire authorities and more direction and drive from Government. This would avoid the ‘patchwork quilt’ that Austin fears, probably correctly, will emerge.

I remain convinced that the only way we will secure lasting economic success and draw greater industry and investment to areas in the North that desperately need it is to build a bigger, stronger and more cohesive Greater Yorkshire Combined Authority. This will redress the imbalance in the economy of the UK which prevents the North from fully achieving what it is capable of.

For the UK’s economy to grow more boldly and sustainably, there needs to be a strong pull northwards and this can only happen with our cities along the M62 corridor, which are the core of industrial and technological power across Yorkshire, combining to ensure we punch at, and above, our weight for generations to come.

Narrow political ambition across Yorkshire holds us back and unless there is a change, history will judge this as a dereliction of duty by regional politicians who will have to explain to the people of the North, their children and grandchildren why their regard for their own political career outweighed their responsibility to the people who elected them, the region and the country.

Some responsibility lies too with the Government who should have given a greater lead on such an important and ground breaking devolution agenda.

I have supported the concept of the Northern Powerhouse from the beginning. Despite my initial scepticism about the need for an elected mayor, I now welcome this because I can see the bigger picture and what could be on offer, not just now, but in the future if we get this right.

In terms of the Humber economy and our excellent links with our immediate neighbours, Hull was catalyst for the formation of the Humber and remains fully committed to it.

Hull City Council is the accountable body for the LEP and its staff sit on our payroll, paid for by contributions from all four Humber authorities who continue to work closely in the interests of the area and its people.

Austin states that both of the South Bank authorities are knocking on Hull’s door and, to be clear, our door has always been, and remains, open to them.

The opportunity presented by the Northern Powerhouse is one not to be missed, but I believe the current set up on this side of the Pennines is not going to fully exploit it.

Look at how the authorities on the other side of the hills are working and how far they have come. We need that type of thinking and action here if we are to have a balanced, fully functioning Northern Powerhouse that will deliver what we really need – jobs, growth, investment and development across all aspects of our economy.

I firmly believe that we need a Greater Yorkshire Authority for this region to be sustainable for us and the generations to come, rather than losing gifted and talented people to London or abroad and wishing we had grabbed the chance with both hands.

I also believe that this would be something that the Government would fully support and welcome.

Stephen Brady is a Labour councillor and leader of Hull Council.