Tom Richmond: Who speaks for Yorkshire? It’s time to make a decision

Who is chief executive of Yorkshire plc?
Who is chief executive of Yorkshire plc?
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IF Yorkshire plc is a business, who is its chief executive?

A tantalising question which has remained unanswered throughout the devolution debate, it will become even more pertinent when Theresa May tours the English regions as part of her ‘meet and greet’.

Just who should the new Prime Minister meet when she makes her first official visit to Yorkshire to discuss the political and economic challenges confronting the county?

The leaders and chief executives of Yorkshire’s town halls? The heads of the Local Enterprise Partnerships? The chairmen of the region’s FTSE companies? Tourism body Welcome to Yorkshire?

Or what about Brigg and Goole MP Andrew Percy, the new Northern Powerhouse Minister? Or Brexit Secretary David Davis, the one Yorkshire MP now serving in Mrs May’s Cabinet? Or every single one of the region’s 50-plus MPs? Or Uncle Tom Cobley?

I could go on – but you get my drift.

The time has come for Yorkshire’s political and business leaders to finally accept – once and for all – that this region’s future interests will be best served by the advent of an elected mayor who can become this county’s de facto business champion and primary point of contact for Ministers and, most critically of all, potential investors.

The Government is right – this is an issue which needs to be reconciled locally rather than imposed by Whitehall – and the newly-appointed Mr Percy could not have been more diplomatic when questioned earlier this week.

Carefully keeping any frustrations in check, this is what Mr Percy said: “We’ve been clear as a Government that it is a bottom up approach. Depending on the structure of the deal, we do believe that a Mayor is an important demonstration of responsibility and accountability. But of course we have always said it’s up to the local authorities in any area. We’re not going to force that on them. If they want a devolution deal of that sort then we will expect a mayor.”

However the subliminal message to local leaders could not have been clearer – get on with it if you want to receive the same sort of decision-making powers which are already changing the political landscape in Greater Manchester and other parts of the country.

Of course, it is not straight-forward. Yorkshire’s very size – and diversity – means that there are so many competing priorities and the needs of rural heartlands are very different to urban landscapes ripe for regeneration.

Sheffield city-region will have its own elected mayor in place by next May. It’s a start – but that still leaves West, North and East Yorkshire at a disadvantage. Even if they reached an amicable agreement now on the issue, a new structure would probably not be in place until May 2018 – a full five years after the Government started to empower the regions

It hardly signifies a dynamic, forward-thinking and ambitious county which is pulling in the same direction and ready to welcome global entrepreneurs to the Broad Acres to create a new generation of jobs as industry evolves and Britain prepares to leave the European Union.

And set in the context of new House of Commons figures which show that Yorkshire’s economy grew by 3.5 per cent in real terms between 2010 and 2014, the lowest of any part of the UK except Northern Ireland, the need for even stronger – and even more decisive and authoritative – leadership is paramount.

These statistics provide a timely wake-up call. After all, Yorkshire’s geography and economy compares more than favourably to Scotland which has its own parliament and First Minister in Nicola Sturgeon who welcomed Mrs May to Edinburgh on the second full day of the new Tory leader’s premiership.

Furthermore this region is even bigger than Wales and Northern Ireland, both of which have already been graced by the new PM who enjoyed constructive talks with the respective assembly leaders Carwyn Jones and Arlene Foster.

Given this, Yorkshire can no longer afford to muddle along – if it wants to make tangible progress on transport, business infrastructure and education – three issues critical to this region becoming even more successful.

As the Northern Powerhouse becomes the British Powerhouse, this county needs to seize the moment, get its own house in order and come up with a concrete plan of action after Mrs May’s aides said the new PM had “unflinching” dedication to this region in response to this newspaper’s open letter to the new PM on Yorkshire Day inviting the Tory leader to boost the county’s fortunes.

If not, local leaders will only have themselves to blame if the Government finds it easier to do business with Yorkshire’s regional rivals when Theresa May starts touring the north of England.

For, at present, Mrs May would not know who to call in the first instance. And that is not her fault – it is a reflection of the devolution dither which has contributed to the current deadlock in a county with so much untapped potential.

IF ANDREW Cook had any self-worth about him, the leading Sheffield industrialist, Tory donor and EU Remain campaigner would have asked for his knighthood to have been withdrawn from David Cameron’s shameful resignation honours list. Why would he want this tainted reward for failure?

I’m afraid the rogues’ gallery is emblematic of the Cameron chumocracy which proved to be the Tory leader’s undoing. If his aides and allies were blunter with the former PM, rather than simply telling him what he wanted to hear, the outcome of the EU referendum might have been very different.

I just hope Theresa May sees sense and dispenses with political honours. If individuals like (Sir) Andrew are worthy of reward, their community values will be so self-evident that they do not require Dodgy Dave’s patronage for recognition.

Believe it or not, Boris Johnson is going down a storm as Foreign Secretary. Politicians, diplomats and dignitaties, I’m told, all want to meet the Brexiteer because they are intrigued by him – and his reputation. The key word is ‘intrigued’. And his linguistic skills are impressing – the former Myaor of London spoke exclusively in French during a recent summit in Paris. Let’s hope he uses his priviliged position to champion the teaching of foreign languages in Britain’s schools – these neglected subjects are even more important in a global economy.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk