Blackfriar: The great and the good of Yorkshire have spoken

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Blackfriar joined the great and the good of Yorkshire at the CBI Yorkshire and Humber MPs’ reception at the House of Commons this week to discuss what they see as the key national and regional business issues.

It was up to the audience, which included heavyweights from around the region, to set the agenda and they contributed towards an animated debate.

The main issue of the event, which was sponsored by Barclays, was the lack of transport between Yorkshire’s key cities.

Why, asked the audience, are we worrying about the lack of international flights from Leeds Bradford and the complexities of HS2 and HS3 when the real problem is far more basic - how difficult it is to travel from one Yorkshire city to another.

One MP (they can’t be named as the event was held under Chatham House rules), demanded to know why it was so easy to travel between Glasgow and Preston, yet the journey across the Pennines back to Yorkshire appeared to take “three weeks”. The cry was taken up around the room.

One CEO said that the biggest gripe among his members of staff who have committed to living in Yorkshire is how hard it is to get to work and travel around the region. “It’s not about getting around the world. It’s about getting to our cities,” he said.

“It’s so hard to get about. The thing staff really hate about coming to live in Yorkshire is the difficulty in travelling around.”

Another Yorkshire business leader called for a proper underground system connecting Leeds to the rest of Yorkshire.

“Everywhere you commute in Yorkshire is a nightmare,” he said. One Yorkshire MP admitted: “We have an infrastructure deficit just as we have a financial deficit.”

The overwhelming call from attendees was for better links between West and East Yorkshire in particular.

​One MP said that all politicians in the region are in favour of HS3 to link not just Leeds and Manchester​, but to extend west to Liverpool and east to Hull. “We’ve got to have the corridor from Hull to Liverpool,” he said.

The MPs’ views are in keeping with the findings of former Goldman Sachs chief economist Jim O’Neill’s City Growth Commission report out this week, which calls for a number of measures including an Oyster card for the North.

One MP made a suggestion which received overwhelming agreement from both the panel and the audience - Yorkshire needs one transport body with one figurehead.

He ​claim​ed that if the region had a well-known figurehead such as Gary Verity, the head of Welcome to Yorkshire and the brains behind the highly successful Grand Depart for the Tour de France, we would be much better off.

He asked the audience to name the man behind London’s transport system and no-one had any problem identifying Boris Johnson, the colourful and dynamic Mayor of London, but the audience and the panel struggled to name his counterpart in Yorkshire.

This was a key theme throughout the event - that Yorkshire needs to put aside party and regional differences, to get together behind closed doors to make a united stand and then present that face to speak up for the whole region.

At the moment it’s all too easy for Westminster to ignore Yorkshire when there is no cohesive body or figurehead to represent the region’s needs.

While the overwhelming view of the cross section of politicians (the event was attended by 21 Yorkshire MPs from all three main parties) was that devolution would be too complicated, there was a call for more debate about decentralisation.

“How can we get better decisions made that effect Yorkshire?” asked one MP.

“If we have got key people we can work through the bureaucracy.”

It is now time for these 21 MPs to go back to their constituencies and put these thoughts into practice.

They need to put aside their party differences and work for the region as a whole.

The great and the good of Yorkshire have spoken.