Business leaders must form ‘coalition of the willing’ to push case for devolution

YORKSHIRE’S business leaders must hold their nerve and form a coalition of the willing to ensure the region secures a devolution settlement that will improve economic growth, a major business event was told.

Charlotte Valeur Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe

The debate included speeches from senior figures at the Institute of Directors (IOD) and Leeds Law Society who argued that more decisions about Yorkshire’s future should be made locally.

The event - One Yorkshire: What next? - included a speech from Charlotte Valeur, national chairman of the IoD, on the topic of devolution.

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Speaking afterwards, she told The Yorkshire Post: “When you make decisions at a local level you have a much better understanding of where to put money and make it more effective.

“Opinion will always be split but we have to find a place where we can collaborate to make a better country for all of us. That should be the main concern.”

Jo Miller, chief executive of Doncaster Council, outlined the potential benefits of devolution which have been highlighted in a report in support of the One Yorkshire devolution proposals.

The 18 councils that have backed the proposed One Yorkshire devolution deal argue that it would be the first step in transferring more powers and funding from Whitehall to the region.

However, the Government rejected the One Yorkshire plan last month. Last week, the Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry urged leaders to keep challenging his government on their ambitions for the North.

The breakfast event, which was held at the offices of the law firm Walker Morris in Leeds, included a panel debate featuring members of the committee in support of the One Yorkshire proposal.

The event heard arguments that devolving more powers to Yorkshire would make the region more productive and lead to improvements in transport investment.

A report from Steer Economic Development, which was studied by the audience, found that there was strong business support for the devolution of powers and budgets from central Government.

There is a range of views on the “geography for devolution” but, on balance, the majority support devolution to the Yorkshire-level, provided local needs can still be met, the report said.

The panellists included Jon Geldart, regional chairman of the IoD in Yorkshire and a member of the One Yorkshire committee,

He said: “The importance of devolution for Yorkshire cannot be underestimated as a catalyst for economic prosperity.

“The increased cooperation between local government, unions, universities and businesses across the region is a most welcome development.

“This ‘coalition of the willing’, working to the same priorities and goals in a coordinated manner, is a critical step along the journey towards placing both funding and accountability where it can be the most effective - close to the communities and citizens it most directly impacts.”

Another panellist, Vickie Brown, an IoD chartered director and finance director at Barnsley-based Distinction Doors, highlighted the important role that businesses of all sizes could play in shaping the debate about devolution. The debate was chaired by Greg Wright, the deputy business editor of The Yorkshire Post.

Supporters of the One Yorkshire proposal claim that the county is a coherent economic area with shared economic challenges and opportunities. The supporters claim that a One Yorkshire devolution deal would provide a boost of up to £1.3bn a year for the region’s economy because it would lead to increased investment in research and development. It could also provide a boost of up to £10.4bn a year extra in exports for the region, the report claimed.

Sue Harris, a director of Walker Morris and IOD ambassador for the legal profession in West Yorkshire, said: “The audience was clearly engaged in the debate and it sparked a really interesting discussion about the meaning of devolution, the benefits for the people and businesses in Yorkshire and the need to bring people together.”

Last week, the region’s political leaders told a Government Minister that they remain committed to their One Yorkshire proposals.

Council leaders from both main parties met Communities Secretary James Brokenshire after he said their plan for handing powers to a Yorkshire-wide mayor did not meet government criteria.

It was agreed that officers from Yorkshire councils would start working immediately with staff from the Minister’s department on the points raised in their submission setting out the economic case last year.

However, there were conflicting accounts about whether Mr Brokenshire signalled he would be willing to change his mind about region-wide devolution being viable, after earlier ruling that Yorkshire did not represent a “functional economic area”.