The big debate: Is it time for a Yorkshire Mayor?

The Yorkshire Post believes that the region's 22 local councils and other public bodies should give serious consideration to creating a figurehead who can fully utilise the Government's new devolution powers
The Yorkshire Post believes that the region's 22 local councils and other public bodies should give serious consideration to creating a figurehead who can fully utilise the Government's new devolution powers
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TODAY THE Yorkshire Post launches a debate on whether a single Boris Johnson-style mayor should be elected to lead this county into a new era of economic prosperity.

This newspaper believes that the region’s 22 local councils - and other public bodies - should give serious consideration to creating a figurehead who can fully utilise the Government’s new devolution powers so the still untapped potential of the priceless Yorkshire brand can be maximised in a devolved Britain.

With more people living in Yorkshire than Scotland, and an economy that is already twice the size of Wales, the time has come for this region’s leaders to coalesce around a structure of local leadership which demonstrates to the world that Yorkshire is open for business and developing a robust infrastructure to match.

With this county’s economy already worth £90bn a year thanks to its distinct city, town, rural and coastal locations, our challenge to political and business leaders is to reach a consensus on a new leadership structure comes in the wake of Chancellor George Osborne devolving unprecedented financial and decision-making powers to Greater Manchester.

Because the potential prize is so great, Manchester’s 10 councils are already working in partnership on those transport and infrastructure issues which transcend longstanding town hall boundaries. They are showing that collaboration can yield far greater awards than a piecemeal approach where local authorities work in isolation and disregard the bigger picture.

Yet, until this region reaches a consensus, Yorkshire’s cities, towns, coastal and rural communities will not find themselves at the forefront of Mr Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse agenda which is intended to rival the powers already enjoyed in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

With more people living in Yorkshire than Scotland, and an economy that is already twice the size of Wales, the time has come for this region’s leaders to coalesce around a structure of local leadership which demonstrates to the world that Yorkshire is open for business and developing a robust infrastructure to match.

The way ahead is not straight-forward – there will be those who advocate the status quo because they contend that the cost of previous local government shake-ups has outweighed the promised benefits.

Then there are those who believe the focus should be on the city-regions like Sheffield, Leeds and Hull because each of Yorkshire’s metropolitan heartlands has differing priorities, a stance which also applies to this county’s £17bn a year rural economy and the role of areas like Harrogate, York and North Yorkshire in any devolution settlement.

Finally, there are those who believe that an united approach is required because the county’s greatest asset – both from an economic and marketing standpoint – is the iconic ‘Yorkshire’ brand’ which is totally unrivalled thanks to game-changing events like the Tour de France or the ingenuity of those great industrialists who put this region on the map in the first place.

As Welcome to Yorkshire demonstrated when it bought the world’s greatest cycle race to the region 12 months ago, there is much to commend about the idea of a visionary Mayor of Yorkshire co-ordinating the work of the county’s 22 councils, and network of Combined Authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships, to put in place the type of transport and economic infrastructure that is taken for granted in cities like London under Ken Livingstone and now Boris Johnson.

It is a remit that is very different to the largely ceremonial duties undertaken by mayors locally. If this role was already in place, the postholder could – for example – have provided a focus for the growing opposition to Government-imposed delays to the upgrading of the TransPennine and Midland Mainline rail routes.

Equally, they could be leading the debate on whether Leeds Bradford Airport should expand still further – or whether there is scope for a new international airport in the Vale of York with first class road links and connections from the proposed HS2 high-speed rail line.

Or they could be helping Yorkshire’s further educaton colleges – a genuine success story – pool their expertise so they can withstand the latest budget cuts without compromising skills training for young people.

However this is not about placing Yorkshire at loggerheads with Greater Manchester. Quite the opposite. This is about the county having the right leadership in place so the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ initiative works for the benefit of all and starts to tilt Britain’s centre of economic gravity back to the North – the region which drove the Industrial Revolution.

As such, The Yorkshire Post urges its readers to join the debate that will take place on these pages in the coming days, and weeks, so a consensus can be reached that enables Yorkshire to plan for the future with purpose – and public support.

This is far more profound than the traditional Leeds versus Sheffield rivalry which has skewed policy in the past; those who travel between the two cities on a regular basis for work or other purposes will know, from first hand experience, that the challenges facing both locations are inter-related and this needs to be reflected in the final decision.

For, irrespective of whether local leaders do ultimately come down in favour of a Yorkshire-wide mayor or an approach that revolves around the region’s cities, public support will be critical to any new arrangements – and ensuring that this county is leading the devolution debate on its terms rather than being led by politicians in Whitehall whose agenda, however well-meaning, may not be compatible with the best long-term interests of God’s own county.

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