'˜Devolution deal would ensure Yorkshire has a voice in Brexit talks'

A YORKSHIRE-wide devolution deal would ensure the region's voice is heard in the Brexit negotiations, a major business event was told.

Coun Susan Hinchcliffe, Coun Stephen Houghton and Coun Judith Blake take part in public debate organised by The Met Club at the Marriott Hotel Leeds. Picture Tony Johnson

The leaders of three Yorkshire councils shared a platform to argue that a Yorkshire devolution settlement would make the region second only to London in scale and influence among the UK regions. The speakers also said that devolution could help to boost the region’s economy by leading to extra investment in skills and transport.

The event, which was held at The Marriott hotel in Leeds and organised by the Met Club, featured Coun Susan Hinchcliffe, Bradford City Council’s leader, Coun Judith Blake, Leeds City Council’s leader, and Coun Stephen Houghton, the leader of Barnsley Council.

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Coun Houghton said he did not believe that the Government’s focus on Brexit was stopping a Yorkshire devolution deal from getting over the line.

He added: “Clearly Brexit is occupying a lot of the Government’s time.

“I understand that, but linking this to Brexit, we need a Yorkshire position, because if we’re going to influence those discussions we need as Yorkshire to be able to say to Government comprehensively, and powerfully, these are the things we will be looking for from that (the Brexit talks).

“So for me, that’s about accelerating the Yorkshire devolution deal and not delaying it.

“Clearly, there are issues around South Yorkshire that need to be resolved, but I don’t think there’s a lack of capacity in Government to do a deal.”

Coun Hinchcliffe said she hoped any potential devolution deal would lead to increased productivity and more innovation.

She added: “It’s only by skills development that’s going to happen. We in Yorkshire can actually influence that if we have skills devolved. If we don’t, we’re just passengers on that journey. That’s not good enough.”

Coun Blake said: “The other major issue is around connectivity and making sure that people, through an improved transport system, can move around the region and not just in and out of it.

“That’s a major issue going forward. We don’t know yet the impact of Brexit. Talking to businesses across the Leeds city region, there’s a huge concern about whether we’re going to have the skills that we need and are those people with those skills going to be in the right place.

Coun Blake added: “Bringing those two elements together through a devolution deal would bring enormous benefits.”

The debate, which was chaired by James Mitchinson, the Editor of The Yorkshire Post, attracted representatives from major public and private sector organisations, including West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Drax Power,