Tom Richmond: Why Yorkshire needs its own minister batting for this region

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LIKE many of you, I want a smaller – and more efficient government – and I am disappointed that none of the major political parties are prepared to embrace this argument. Fearful of alienating voters ahead of the May 7 election, their bluster – even in the aftermath of George Osborne’s Budget – amounts to little more than tinkering.

Put simply, there are too many politicians – certainly in the Government’s upper echelons. There does not need to be a Department of Communities and Local Government serving England – as well as separate ministries for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They should all be amalgamated into one office for the regions.

Likewise entrepreneurship. Given the increased scope of the Treasury, it is increasingly hard to justify the Department for Business, Industry and Skills when the whole Whitehall machine should be championing UK commerce morning, noon and night –to paraphrase Tory grandee Michael Heseltine.

And, if overseas aid is so important to trade and Britain’s position in the world, why do taxpayers have to foot the bill for the Department for International Development when its work could be done more than adequately by the Foreign Office?

If the next government was prepared to grasp such issues, rather than accepting the status quo because of a prevailing “we’ve always done it this way” mentality, it would make it easier to nominate senior politicians to take responsibility for an English region – especially if the issue of “metro mayors” for Leeds and Sheffield is going to prove so divisive.

As A Manifesto for Yorkshire made clear earlier this week, The Yorkshire Post believes that a Minister for Yorkshire is essential to make sure that there is a more effective dialogue between Whitehall – and local authority leaders based in God’s own county.

I’ve lost count of the number of times that I have heard senior figures from this region travel to London on important policy matters and be left bemused by the lack of joined-up thinking in the corridors of power – tourism, for example, comes not only under the auspices of Vince Cable and Sajid Javid’s business and culture departments respectively but also the Treasury.

Ditto the NHS. While the Department of Health appears to have overall control, social care comes under the remit of Eric Pickles at the aforementioned Department of Communities and Local Government while the Treasury has the ultimate say on budgets. I could go on, but you get the picture.

On this basis, the case for a Yorkshire Minister is a powerful one, simply from the perspective of co-ordinating and advancing policies at a time when the business of government, national and local, is becoming more convoluted with each passing day.

However these duties should be in addition to a Minister’s departmental responsibilities and should not involve any additional salary costs. For, unless the momentum generated by the Government’s devolution agenda is maintained, Britain – and regions like Yorkshire – will struggle to operate at their optimum.

ED Miliband chose his words carefully in Leeds when he appeared to rule out a formal post-election coalition with Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond’s Scottish National Party.

He said there would be no SNP Ministers in any Labour-led government, a statement which does still leave open the possibility of MPs from north of the border voting to prop up Miliband on an informal basis – and in return for policy concessions that could be the United Kingdom’s detriment.

Yet, while this does leave Miliband with some wriggle-room, I do also believe that Labour and the Tories have a duty – in the national interest – to rule out the possibility of any electoral pacts with the Northern Ireland parties.

As far as I am concerned, the need to secure the peace process should preclude any of the province’s parties from being asked to prop up a minority Westminster government. Such an arrangement will only lead to accusations of favouritism and undermine Stormont’s ability to govern at a time when relations between the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein are even more fraught than usual.

The bellicose words of the DUP’s founding father, the late Dr Ian Paisley, come to mind: “Never, never, never.”

THIS column’s call last week for greater state funding for hospices and Macmillan nurses, the unsung heroes of the NHS, proved prescient.

A review of palliative care by MPs concluded – the following day – that free social care should be provided at the end of life so that no one dies in hospital for want of a package of support.

The words of Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, chairman of Parliament’s health select committee, are worth repeating. “There are unacceptable levels of variation in the care that people receive and this needs to be addressed so that high quality end of life care is available to everyone regardless of their age, medical condition or where they live,” she said.

I agree – this is one report which must not be allowed to gather dust. I just hope the main parties can reach a consensus on this – the plight of the terminally-ill is too important to be left to charity or the pettiness of point-scoring politicians. As a former Macmillan nurse wrote in a letter to The Yorkshire Post earlier this week: “I was once told by a wise soul that when someone is dying, you only have one chance to get it right.”

I KNOW it has been a pit parky of late, but it hasn’t been cold enough for footballers, like Middlesbrough’s star striker Patrick Bamford, to start wearing gloves as a matter of course. I can understand why overseas players, Mario Balotelli springs to mind, have come to regard mittens as fashion accessories – but I’m afraid players like Bamford do their sport a dis-service. If you wish to stay warm, start running around with a bit more urgency – it’s what the late Sir Tom Finney, and other all-time greats from yesteryear did because it toughened them up.

THE Rotherham MP Sarah Champion was contrite when it emerged that she had used Parliamentary expenses to claim back the £17 cost of a wreath of poppies for Remembrance Sunday. “The claim shouldn’t have been made so of course I’ll reimburse IPSA on Monday,” she said. Leaving aside the facts that the expenses system is complicated, and that Ms Champion was only elected in 2012 after her predecessor Denis MacShane went to jail for fraud, what possessed the MP – or her officials – to think that it was morally right to make such a claim in the first instance? That is the question that still needs to be answered.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk

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