Tom Richmond: Devolution will only succeed if there’s proper public accountability

Leeds - regional devolution must include proper accountability.

Leeds - regional devolution must include proper accountability.

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DON’T our politicians ever learn?

One of the primary reasons why Britain voted to leave the European Union on June 23 was because of a monumental democratic deficit, namely the amount of power wielded by unelected commissioners, bureaucrats and so on. Sovereignty, Britain decided, was sacrosanct.

Yet this is precisely what will happen locally if the Government decides to ditch the concept of metro-mayors – the leadership model where city-regions or wider areas have their own Boris Johnson or Sadiq Khan-like figure at the helm.

If this concept is jettisoned simply because civic, political and business leaders in West, North and East Yorkshire can’t agree the time of day because urban and rural areas have differing priorities, it is likely that Ministers will give greater decision-making powers to the network of combined authorities and local enterprise partnerships that have grown like Topsy in recent times.

However there is just one fundamental flaw with this approach – these are EU-like bodies where the electorate and local taxpayers have very little say about the policy agenda or the individuals tasked with championing issues like economic investment, skills and transport.

The defence by the powers-that-be is that these bodies include council leaders who are elected individuals. Yes – but that is the very point.

Take West Yorkshire by way of an example (and no more). Its combined authority is headed by Peter Box who is the longstanding leader of Wakefield Council which, to its credit, has put itself at the forefront of the region’s regeneration agenda.

Yet he is only in this position because he continues to be re-elected by voters in Wakefield’s Altofts and Whitwood ward because of his record as a local councillor over the years. In May, Coun Box was re-elected with 1,994 votes. Yet the population of West Yorkshire as a whole is 2.2 million – and counting. If combined authorities, LEPs and so on are to assume more powers because the metro-mayor concept is dead in the water, there must be a far clearer – and stronger – link between responsibility and accountability to avoid a repeat of the mistakes made by the EU.

THERE’S no finer place to watch county cricket in the world than Scarborough on a sun-kissed summer’s day – even the squawking seagulls circling above the timeless North Marine Road ground added to the atmosphere.

There was just one drawback – the A64 back to York and Leeds. Late on Wednesday, a fairly quiet time compared to weekends and bank holidays, this road – featured in two previous columns – was nose-to-tail for an age on the Malton bypass where the dual carriageway reverts back to a single lane. The same again nearer York.

If this was the south of England, the whole route would have been dualled by now. Yet, 38 years after Malton’s bypass opened, Yorkshire is stuck in the slow lane. However, if there were better transport links to the coast (it was reportedly standing room only in suffocating heat on the trains), resorts like Scarborough could welcome even more tourists – and investors. I’ve asked it before and I ask it again – who is going to take responsibility for, arguably, Yorkshire’s most important road improvement project?

IF it wasn’t for the fact that Jeremy Corbyn is in cahoots with the militant rail unions, and was economical with the truth about his seating arrangements on the ‘ram-packed’ Virgin East Coast rail service from London to York and Newcastle, I’d have a modicum of sympathy for the under-fire Labour leader.

After all, Mr Corbyn uses the railways far more frequently than the tax exile Sir Richard Branson who wasted no time putting the boot in – even though he no longer lives on these shores.

Come on Sir Richard... why don’t you spend a week’s holiday travelling Britain on the subsidised rail companies that carry your business empire’s name and see whether you think the seating and staff arrangements are acceptable – or not?

I bet Sir Richard wouldn’t tolerate having to sit in a vestibule, or using a blocked toilet or making do with a non-existent tea and coffee service – all failings I, and many others, have had to put up with since the East Coast route came under the auspices of the Virgin banner.

COUNCIL chiefs in York seem to be of the view that fewer shop signs on the pavement will make the Roman city more attractive to shoppers and tourists alike. I disagree. The main problem, talking to local residents, is the cost of clearing up after stag-dos, hen parties and inebriated racegoers as York becomes a party capital rather than a heritage city. A few A-Boards promoting independent traders appears to be the least of York’s problems.

HELP. A trip to the local Post Office left me in despair. Trying to send a parcel to Canada, I requested ‘air mail’. “Why?” said the assistant. “Because it’s going overseas,” I pointed out. “I thought Canada was in Cornwall,” came the depressing reply from behind the counter.

GEOFFREY Boycott clearly hopes his greatest fan, Theresa May, will give him the official recognition that he craves. “Send me to the House of Lords, I’ll soon wake them up. They won’t sit there nodding off when I’m there,” the retired cricketer is quoted as saying.

POOR John Inverdale – the bungling BBC broadcaster could not do right from wrong at Rio. Yet Brendan Foster seemed to escape scot-free when he said Mo Farah should become the first British athlete to be knighted after completing the long distance double at successive Olympics. He seems to have clearly forgotten middle distance runner Dame Kelly Holmes who was honoured after her two golds at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

DICKIE Bird, the legendary umpire, was in fine fettle at cricket’s iconic Welcome to Yorkshire Scarborough Festival. Joe Root, he says, is the best Yorkshire batsman since Sir Len Hutton. And Barnsley’s finest regaled all and sundry about the time he was blanked by his dinner table companion at a national sports celebration for the entirety of the whole evening. The lack of manners was too much for dear Dickie when Mr Rude got up to leave. “Who are you?” inquired the Yorkshireman, knowing full well that this graceless guest was none other than Jose Mourinho. Just a shame Dickie didn’t raise the umpire’s finger...

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk

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