Andy Burnham: North’s voice will be louder with a devolved Yorkshire

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THIS week’s transport summit in Leeds was unprecedented. In fact, I think the last time the North met under one roof like that we created Rugby League.

I believe that Wednesday’s meeting has also led to the creation of something that could be a game-changer for the North. Politicians and businesses from right across the north of England have pledged their support for the idea of what some have called the “Council of the North”.

Andy Burnham.

Andy Burnham.

What we want to build is a representative a body of council leaders, businesses and MPs – alongside trade unions and the community and voluntary sector. It’s not about party politics and it won’t be all about politicians. The success of the transport summit came in large part from the strong support we had from the private sector. This new body will be about us all uniting to help ensure a strong voice and a fair deal for the North.

This idea isn’t a new one and has been proposed in a whole host of forms, but what we have now is leaders from right across the North signed up and ready to go. The North is getting organised and is ready to get its voice heard more loudly than ever before.

Read more: New era at last for Yorkshire?

With the Government appearing to pull back on long-promised transport upgrades in the North, the Northern Powerhouse concept is in need of an urgent reboot within the corridors of Whitehall and, with Brexit negotiations underway, the need for a strong, united Northern voice has arguably never been greater.

The transport summit in Leeds.

The transport summit in Leeds.

We can now look to pool our political influence and demonstrate a real willingness to use it, like London, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been doing for years.

We know that Westminster has failed the north of England but we have struggled to speak with one clear voice on its unfair decisions.

With the delicate arithmetic in Parliament, we now have a chance to bring MPs together across the North from all political parties and ask them to start organising.

But there is one thing that I believe could strengthen the North’s hand even more – devolution across Yorkshire.

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In Greater Manchester, we have seen the benefits of being able to take decisions locally and speak authoritatively, with one voice, on behalf of nearly three million people.

At a time when budgets are tighter than ever, we can now work together in a different way across our city region to make it the best place in the world to grow up, get on and grow old. We’ve taken charge of our health and social care services to help improve the health and wellbeing of our people in a way that works for us here.

We’ve put ourselves on the map internationally, attracting investment from across the globe while also supporting jobs and growth locally.

We’re able to bring together the community and voluntary sector, academics, businesses and the public at large to tackle rough sleeping – a huge issue not just here in Greater Manchester, but in cities across the North.

Crucially, we can speak clearly and directly to Government, working together where we agree and making our objections clear when we don’t get a fair deal. But the voice of the North would be so much stronger if we could speak together with a more powerful Yorkshire.

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Devolution is famously a process and not an event, but it does need momentum. The decision on how to make devolution in Yorkshire work is for Yorkshire to decide but my message is clear: the North needs you.

We are here to help – anything that Greater Manchester can do to support devolution across Yorkshire we will do. It is in all our interests that a new deal is struck and soon.

We need to break the London-centric bias that exists and rebalance our country. Let’s be clear, people in the North are not anti-London, we are patriotic people and we’re proud of our capital city.

We are not against our capital developing world- class infrastructure but it cannot be at the expense of the North. Frankly, we’re not putting up with clapped out trains and congested roads any more. Our patience has run out.

But this is about much more than just transport. We are far too centralised as a nation and devolution is the way we can solve this.

We know the views that many people in our communities have of the current political system. Too many people feel forgotten and let down by Westminster. Right now there is a chance for us to change the way politics works in our country.

With a more powerful Yorkshire and a strong Northern voice, we can grab this opportunity and improve the lives of people across the North. Let’s get to work.

Andy Burnham is the metro-mayor of Greater Manchester.