September 24: Questions over devolution deal

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IT is clear that time is not on the side of those who advocate the emerging “White Rose” devolution bid which would see councils from across West, North and East Yorkshire join forces to champion the future economic growth of this region.

For, while this approach was given impetus by David Cameron’s unguarded comments about civic relations in this county, it is clear that the five West Yorkshire authorities – Leeds, Bradford, Kirklees, Calderdale and Wakefield – are becoming increasingly impatient and would prefer to make their own arrangements.

Weeks after suggesting that they teamed up with four councils in North Yorkshire – Selby, Harrogate, York and Craven – it now appears that the metropolitan councils want a devolution deal of their own while promising to work with neighbouring authorities on cross-border issues like transport.

If they get their own way, as appears increasingly likely, it will be too late for those politicians and business leaders who believe the region needs to present an united front if it is to secure much-needed investment from the private sector and countries like China, which is increasingly integral to the success, or otherwise, of George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse agenda.

However, with cynics suggesting that leaders at the five Labour-run councils in West Yorkshire do not want to work with those rural councils which are predominantly led by the Tories, it is important to remember that political parochialism must not stand in the way of the county’s greater good.Having revised their plans, it should be incumbent upon West Yorkshire’s rulers to demonstrate how their latest approach is in the best interests of all. It is a case that has still to be made with any conviction.

Class struggles

The school places free-for-all

IT is entirely understandable that so many parents lodge appeals if their children are denied their preferred place at primary and secondary school – they are motivated by a desire to secure the best possible education for their offspring and do not want to accept second best.

Yet, while there will always be winners and losers, it is significant that less than one quarter of appeals are upheld according to newly-released data. This suggests that the current system is relatively robust and that admission rules are being applied with a degree of fairness.

However it remains to be seen whether this will be the case if state schools convert to academies in the numbers envisaged by the Government – pupils from academically-disadvantaged backgrounds will almost certainly miss out if the admissions policy is allowed to become a free-for-all.

One way forward is for federations to be formed between secondary schools and feeder schools within their catchment area. The benefits could be significant. Not only would this make it easier for teachers to monitor the progress of pupils as they move through the year groups, but it might make it easier for teachers to utilise any spare classroom capacity. After all, it is hard to argue in favour of building new classrooms at one school when there are empty buildings in the near vicinity.

As such, the latest statistics are a reminder about the virtues of a co-ordinated approach to education, not least over school places, rather than the fragmented policies being pursued at present. It is a lesson that Ministers are still to learn.

Full steam ahead

Museum is on track for milestone

LOOKING back on the opening of York’s iconic National Railway Museum 40 years ago, it is extraordinary to think that this was the first tourist attraction of its kind to be opened outside of London. The legacy of this landmark can be seen in those nationally-acclaimed visitor destinations, like The Hepworth Wakefield, that have opened in Yorkshire, and other locations across in the North, over the past four decades.

Not only has this led to the evolution of a UK-wide culture policy, but such attractions are having a transformative effect on local economies – the National Railway Museum attracts more than 700,000 visitors a year to York and is one reason why the tourism industry now underpins the financial fortunes of this great Roman city.

Yet, as a locomotive on the East Coast Main Line is named in honour of the NRM, it would be remiss not to acknowledge the contribution made by its volunteers. Without their commitment, York would not have a museum which remains the envy of the world. Long may this continue.