THE significance of today’s open letter from leading business luminaries in Yorkshire must not be under-estimated by all those politicians and officials involved in discussions about this region’s devolution deal.
Though individual bosses have previously expressed frustration at the slow rate of progress in comparison to rival regions, this is the first time that such prominent investors and wealth-creators – people who know how to create the jobs which underpin the private sector – have been the co-signatories of such a constructive call-to-arms.
And with plans to elect a mayor for Sheffield and South Yorkshire now in abeyance, it’s even more imperative that the current impasse over this region’s future leadership and governance is ended.
The case for devolving power from London to the regions is proven. It’s why the Government’s Northern Powerhouse, launched two and a half years ago, is proving to be a catalyst for change and has been matched by Labour’s own vision which was unveiled in Leeds yesterday, although Sheffield MPs were quick to distance themselves from the united Yorkshire approach endorsed by Shadow Cabinet member Jon Trickett.
Of greater significance, however, was the unanimity in the House of Lords on Thursday when peers coalesced around the IPPR North think-tank’s own strategy – the status quo is not an option. As Brexit powers are repatriated from Brussels to Britain, one of the most centralised countries in Europe when it comes to decision-making, it’s imperative that the English regions – neglected for so long by London-centric politicians – become economic powerhouses in their own right.
Yet, while other areas are forging ahead, Yorkshire’s economic diversity – a strength in many respects – is proving to be an obstacle because each part of this county has so many varied industries and so many competing political priorities. These differences do need to be acknowledged, respected, owned and provided for by the people that understand them the most – Yorkshiremen and women.
However, as the letter from many of the county’s most influential business leaders makes clear, the economic prize – tantalisingly close – could be immense.
Careful not to fully commit themselves to the One Yorkshire model which appears to have added impetus at the start of 2017, they also know this region – and its residents – will be the losers if progress is stalled on the great policy challenges like transport, digital infrastructure and skills.
And while no strategy will be without imperfections, perhaps the time has come for an universally respected figure, like the Archbishop of York, who spoke with such passion and foresight in the Lords, to act as some form of mediator. Politicians and business leaders need to work in tandem, building on existing relationships and dialogues, to enable the private and public sectors to maximise the many untapped opportunities that do exist.
As today’s letter concludes: “2017 must go down as the year in which Yorkshire takes control of its destiny to make us greater than we have ever been in our long, proud history. We have great opportunities, as long as we all work together.”
The Yorkshire Post endorses this sentiment. It’s now up to MPs, town hall chief executives and council leaders to respond in kind – all those who live and work in this county have a right to expect nothing less.
May’s mission: Time for PM to visit county
SIX months after becoming Prime Minister, Theresa May deserves credit for her steady and stable leadership following the political tumult caused by Britain’s decision to leave the EU and David Cameron’s resignation. It’s not entirely her fault that her predecessor, and others, had not even prepared for the possibility of a protest vote, and a disillusioned electorate backing Brexit because they resented being taken for granted.
Yet, while Mrs May is fortunate that Labour is in total disarray, as evidenced by the sudden resignation of former shadow minister Tristram Hunt, the Tory leader will require all of her acumen, and more, over the next six months.
There are clearly civil servants who mistrust or under-estimate the PM, whether it be EU ambassador Sir Ivan Rogers, who resigned earlier this month, or NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens. And her in-tray remains invidious – the Brexit negotiations, the NHS crisis and the need to turn her vision of a ‘shared society’ into practice.
Platitudes alone will no longer suffice and we hope Mrs May takes the trouble to make her first visit to Yorkshire as PM sooner rather than later – she ignores this region, and the North, at her peril. If she accepts the invitation, she will find a county ready to energised and empowered by her Government.