Bill Adams: Listen to region in drive for devolution

AS a Lancashire lad, who's spent 18 years in Yorkshire, I was hugely disappointed to read Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry's comments on a Yorkshire deal in this newspaper last week.

Will it be lift-off for Leeds with a Yorkshire-wide devolution deal? Bill Adams of the TUC thinks so.

In it he told us devolution was about Yorkshire getting to make its own choices, but then he told us we don’t get to choose what type of devolution we want.

Over the last two years, the TUC has brought together leaders from across civil society and business to develop our own bottom up model for devolution.

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We have a bold vision to harness the power of our diverse, beautiful region.

Yorkshire is a populous economic powerhouse that’s bigger than Scotland, with a very distinct brand.

We can combine the advanced manufacturing of South Yorkshire with the energy hub and ports of Humberside, the tourism and agriculture of the North with the financial and manufacturing centres of West Yorkshire. All with a heavy dose of Yorkshire culture.

Every authority in Yorkshire and the Humber will be free to be a part of it and contribute their unique strengths. The economic case is very clear.

But you also need political buy-in for devolution to work. Up here, no one out on the street knows what a city region or combined authority is. But everyone knows what Yorkshire is, and they all care about it. If you want political buy-in, and you want legitimacy from Yorkshire folk, they’ve got to care.

It’s great that the Government has committed to using local ideas to draft a devolution plan for the region, so they should listen to the advocates of a one Yorkshire deal.

By carving us up into smaller city regions, where we compete for local funding, there’s a very real risk that many parts of the region will get left behind.

Add to this the effects of Brexit on the Yorkshire economy, and I think the Government has a good justification to pause and re-think any existing plans. We’re ready to work together as a whole region for better transport, skills, and infrastructure.

And the proof of why a “one Yorkshire deal” matters is in Jake Berry’s own words. He claims Boeing and McLaren investments in Rotherham, and Siemens in Hull (City of Culture), as Government successes. But the Rotherham Advanced Manufacturing Park was set up by Yorkshire Forward, our last “one Yorkshire” body. It was a great success, attracting investment and jobs to the area.

The reality is we need a single voice again, co-ordinating transport links and infrastructure projects, inward cultural investment and attracting new companies like Siemens to set up shop here. The Government did away with that, and now expects our competing city regions to agree on rail-link upgrades or region wide transport passes.

Mr Berry, we’re telling you that we have ideas and proposals – so give us a choice in the matter. We don’t want to see disconnected infrastructure, unplanned transport, and communities left behind. Instead let’s meet, sit down, and discuss how we lift up all of Yorkshire, rather than set up regional projects for failure.

A deal for all of Yorkshire could be the bold statement from you we’re waiting for. It would show the government is committed to rebalancing the economy, investing in the North, and giving Yorkshire a strong voice to set out our own agenda.

We’ll publish a paper setting out our vision in the coming weeks, and the Government should be willing to consult again, listen to all the different groups of stakeholders and give us the devolution we seek, so we can contribute more to our region and our country.