YP Comment: Is Northern Powerhouse another boys' club?

WOULD YORKSHIRE be better served if there were more women occupying key positions on the region's local authorities and other public bodies?

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the Battle of Jutland commemoration. The three main party leaders north of the border are female.

It’s a question which is even more timely following the publication of two key reports on the Northern Powerhouse – one, by Centre for Cities, alluding to issues of productivity and the other, on behalf of the Fawcett Society, which points to the over-dominance of male councillors in West Yorkshire and elsewhere.

The latter’s warning that the Northern Powerhouse is becoming “just another boys’ club” does not appear to be a failing which is unique to Yorkshire. In spite of increased awareness about gender equality, just 191 out of the 650 MPs elected at last year’s general election were female. Women are still under-represented in corporate boardrooms while Germany’s Angela Merkel was the only female in the official photo-call at the most recent G7 summit of world leaders in Japan.

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There are exceptions – the leaders of the SNP, Conservative and Labour parties in Scotland are all female and time will tell whether their example, a coincidence of timing, leads to more women becoming actively involved in public life. Some will also use this research to renew calls for quotas and all-women shortlists, but equally a significant number of female politicians say they would rather be selected – and then elected – on merit rather than as a consequence of an arbitrary system.

Either way, perhaps this is a reminder that decision-makers need to accept the fact that women will continue to be integral to the future of the region’s economic prospects and this needs to be acknowledged in the policy-making process. Though important, terms like “productivity” do still create a male-dominated image of people needing to toil longer and harder on the factory floor when the focus should be on ensuring that everyone has the chance to fulfil their potential.

Our moral compass: Britain’s duty towards refugees

IT is a very depressing indictment on the inflammatory state of contemporary politics that a mature and measured debate on evolving issues like migration and human trafficking cannot be held without both sides of the EU referendum campaign becoming even more hostile towards each other.

This has been brought home by the debate about Britain’s moral obligations as an economic superpower in the wake of the recent rescues of refugees from the English Channel and new statistics revealing that more than 45 million around the world are trapped in modern slavery, significantly more than previously thought.

As a number of harrowing court cases have revealed, this region is not immune from the exploitation of migrants and increased awareness is essential if justice is to catch up with the leaders of those gangs who make defenceless individual work in degrading conditions for a pittance at best. In this regard, the public are the eyes and ears of the police.

Yet it also speaks volumes about the fragile state of the world in 2016 that there are some people who find this primitive life preferable to the inhumanity that they would otherwise face in their homeland. It is a sobering, and difficult, thought as politicians trade statistics about what is an acceptable level of migration – irrespective of whether this country chooses to remain in the EU or not. Those caught up in this crisis of humanity are not statistics that can be traded like commodities.They are individuals deserving of respect and the terms of the debate need to reflect this at the very least.

Bedrock of society: Don’t take volunteers for granted

TWO traits help to explain why 21 million people, nearly one third of the UK’s population, now volunteer in some capacity – the generosity of those concerned and Britain’s dependence on the charity sector, particularly in the health and social care spheres.

Some will contend that this is evidence of the Government abdicating its duties as a by-product of its austerity agenda. Others will point to changing demographics and a preponderance of newly-retired people ready, able and willing to give something back.

This must not detract from the fact that Yorkshire would be much a poorer place without individuals of all ages supporting causes which are close to their heart, and it would be remiss not to acknowledge the social conscience of those younger people going the extra mile to help the less fortunate. A salutary reminder that volunteers remain the bedrock of society, this goodwill must never be taken for granted.