Devolution must not see parts of the region go it alone as we will be weaker as a result.
THE intention by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority to submit a regional devolution proposal based on the Leeds City Region is fundamentally limited in that it misses the real potential and scale that devolution should offer to our region, the Northern Powerhouse and the UK.
I am united alongside Stephen Brady and Carl Les, the respective leaders of Hull and North Yorkshire councils, in our wholehearted support for the substantial potential offered by a wider Yorkshire devolution proposition and we are now urging our partners across the rest of Yorkshire to commit to working together to make this happen.
Yorkshire has a brand and scale that must be used to lever unprecedented opportunities into our region. Being part of Yorkshire is our biggest asset, but this can only be harnessed if we all stand together. Yorkshire is the true powerhouse of the North and, as elected leaders, we have an obligation to be both brave and ambitious in our vision for securing the fiscal and organisational devolution that will bring with it huge benefits for our residents and our businesses.
Only by working together can we ensure that our region has the critical mass to compete on the national and international stages and the ability to stand up and be counted in relation to other large-scale, devolved economies that already exist in Europe and which are rapidly taking shape in other English regions.
We accept that such devolution comes with the requirement to have an elected mayor and, whilst acknowledging that this is not a concept that has previously had wide-ranging support, we do not see this as something that removes existing decision-making by local elected members.
Rather, as the Government has made clear, it demonstrates democratic accountability for the new powers and decision-making capabilities that will be devolved down to the regions.
Given the size of the prize, we are prepared to accept that. A figurehead for our region would command a huge amount of influence, both at home and abroad, and would ensure there is a proper regional focus on overarching issues and opportunities.
Too often in the past, our region has played second fiddle to the great economic draw of the South East and, with 22 local councils, we have lacked the unified voice to ensure that we benefit from the central investments we need in order to drive our economy forward.
As a consequence, we have lacked the scale and influence to fight our corner and, crucially, to reap the economic benefits of these investments.
Put simply, we have not been heard loudly enough in Westminster and the time has come for that to change.
We cannot be short-sighted nor allow vested interests, which pervade our region as much as it pervades any other region, to cloud our commitment to delivering the best opportunities for our people.
Whilst the region has great diversity, which is both an asset and a challenge, we share many common agendas, such as economic development, skills training, housing and transport, to name but a few.
These can be tackled much more successfully by working together and our vision should be to build and grow our vibrant Yorkshire economy, by combining our existing strengths, to become one of the most competitive regions in the world.
As local councils, we are also seeing substantial reductions in our budgets and, again, it is only by working together, sharing services and co-operating on a regional level, rather than sub-regionally, that we can continue to deliver essential public services.
If the Leeds City Region deal is taken forward as it is, Yorkshire will have lost a momentous opportunity and, quite simply, we will have failed.
It will also have isolated large parts of our region, most significantly our regions of Hull, East and North Yorkshire, instead of taking a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring unity.
We cannot allow that to happen and neither can the Government. This is not an argument based upon not wishing to be left out, it is an argument based upon how much weaker the proposition will be if these areas are not included.
Without us, the Yorkshire Powerhouse does not even have a port; with us, it has the UK’s largest port complex and the fourth largest in Europe.
We accept that these are not easy decisions to make but, essentially, the compelling argument should not be one of politics but economics.
We can only secure the best future for the people of Yorkshire by working together as Yorkshire, by taking decisions as Yorkshire and by presenting ourselves to the world as Yorkshire.
Councillor Stephen Parnaby is leader of East Riding of Yorkshire Council.