I’m a businessman, not a politician, so I’ve avoided making many public statements on the devolution process so far.
However, having supported a Leeds City Region deal since the initial set of “asks” were submitted in September last year, I can no longer bite my tongue and see the economic opportunity of a lifetime missed.
Full credit is due to West Yorkshire’s local leaders: they have been consistent throughout that devolution is about a stronger economy, more jobs, an efficient transport network and above all better quality of life for local people. A potential deal is on the table that could achieve all of this and ensure that decisions on the issues that really matter locally – housing, jobs, bus services, business growth, skills – are made here, by people who understand them.
Let me be clear, the stakes could not be higher. The UK’s largest city region outside London and the South East – a £60bn economy, at the geographic centre of the North and contributing one-fifth of its economic output – is facing being denied devolution until 2020.
Having set the pace on this agenda alongside Manchester for the past ten years – and secured the country’s largest Growth Deal settlement two years ago – we could now find ourselves at the back of the queue.
This is bad news for Yorkshire as Leeds City Region makes up 75 per cent of the regional economy still without devolution.
It is bad news for the vision of an inter-connected, globally recognised and economically vibrant Northern Powerhouse, and it’s bad news for the country.
I chaired a meeting of 20 business leaders last week to discuss the current issues facing their firms.
Top of their list was recruiting workers with the right skills as growth and confidence return. Without a devolution deal we could see businesses lose out on support that has enabled 2,500 firms to invest in skills and apprenticeships over the past four years, helped 4,000 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) grow and unlocked half a billion pounds of private sector investment that would have otherwise sat in reserves or gone elsewhere.
Second on their list was transport – international, inter-city and intra-regional.
The £1bn Growth Deal the LEP agreed with government in 2014 includes a “gainshare” arrangement that will provide over £1bn much-needed transport investment over the next 20 years.
As a result, the West Yorkshire Combined Authority is now bringing long overdue schemes to fruition.
However, 43 per cent of transport spending in England still goes to London and the South East.
Without the next stage of devolution, we will be denied additional funding to reverse decades of under-investment in our local network – costing us significant private sector investment and jobs.
Next week I’m heading a delegation of 60 business leaders to the MIPIM global property exhibition.
This is our largest private sector delegation ever, demonstrating the scale of investor confidence in the City Region. We currently have in excess of £10bn investor development in the pipeline, including L&G Homes’ recent announcement of a cutting-edge new manufacturing space in Selby that will create over 400 local jobs.
Will this confidence continue without a devolution deal soon?
I’m a pragmatist and will continue to lend my support down to the wire to secure the best possible deal.
Already our partnership working has put in place the foundations to deliver 20,600 additional jobs and £2.1bn extra economic output by 2031. Now is the time to build on these foundations and transform our economy for generations.
If our region wants to see devolution progress soon, the only immediate option is a Leeds City Region deal.
This could be followed by others as soon as practicably possible, with appropriate collaborative links on issues such as culture, sport and tourism. Other proposed solutions are not workable – certainly not within the 2017 timescale that Manchester, Sheffield and others are working towards.
If a City Region deal isn’t agreed, not only will the whole of Yorkshire continue to miss out, but also the North and the nation.
What devolution could look like:
-Decisions about the issues that really matter taken locally
-Faster economic growth and more jobs for local people
-Better, more affordable transport and housing, with more influence over HS2
-More control of government funding to spend where it’s really needed
-An even better and easier City Region to do business
-Access for businesses to the skills they need to grow
-The right flood prevention measures
-Lower energy bills and better access to affordable, environmentally-friendly power
-Benefits for the whole of Yorkshire: Leeds City Region represents 75 per cent of the regional economy still without devolution