The case for a Yorkshire-wide devolution settlement has been described as “very compelling” by one of the UK’s top business leaders.
Josh Hardie, deputy director general of the CBI, told The Yorkshire Post that a recent study outlining how the so-called One Yorkshire proposal would add billions to the region’s economy, had a great deal of merit and was worth pursuing.
Mr Hardie added that the time for arguing over a settlement had to end and that a unified voice from the region on devolved powers would be hard for Government to ignore.
He added that there was a clear trend of central Government targeting areas with elected metro mayors and that region’s lacking a local political structure risked being left behind.
An independent study published this month by consultants Steer Economic Development showed that a One Yorkshire mayor could add as much as £30bn a year to the region’s economy by boosting its low level of exports and creating more businesses.
Mr Hardie said: “I think the data produced recently is very, very compelling for a Yorkshire-wide deal.
“I think the data produced recently is very, very compelling for a Yorkshire-wide deal. It shows the many billions that it could add to the local economy.”Josh Hardie - CBI
“It shows the many billions that it could add to the local economy. I would not say that there is absolute unity on what’s the best way forward is but it is so useful to have that data out there.
“In a sense our job now is working with the business community because the best way to get that deal, whether it is region wide or city by city, is consistent voice from local Government and business saying this is where we want to go. That is something Government will listen to.
“A One Yorkshire approach has huge benefits. Now we need to work that through with businesses to come together and focus on one solution.”
Yorkshire-wide devolution is favoured by 18 of the region’s 20 councils, as well as South Yorkshire mayor Dan Jarvis.
However central Government continue to insist the beleaguered Sheffield City Region deal must be fully implemented first.
Mr Hardie conceded that other parts of the UK who have come to devolution agreements were reaping the benefits but also cautioned about rushing into a decision on what Yorkshire should do for fear of making the wrong move.
“At some point a decision has to be made and arguing has to stop,” he said.
“I wouldn’t say that we should rush that, we could end up coming to the wrong conclusion,
“That is why it is so useful having this data out there. We need to use that to assess against different models but then a decision has to be taken. In some ways taking longer about it doesn’t have to make it in any easier. There is a risk of regions being left behind in the way that Government is rolling out devolution at the moment.
“Money is being targeted at metro mayors. You can see the impact that good grouping can have in terms of growth. The focus has to be on helping those regions that can form heir units push ahead but at the same time making sure those that can’t do not fall behind but because then you are punishing individuals in those areas.”
He added: “There is not a silver bullet. The best shot is to get as combined and coherent and consistent a voice together across regional politics.
“If everybody in the region puts their differences aside and says this our best chance of getting a good deal then it forces the mind of central Government and makes it harder to ignore and harder, frankly, to divide and conquer.”
The CBI - Britain’s biggest business organisation - has been very vocal on the ongoing debate over Brexit.
Mr Hardie remained convinced that a deal over Britain’s future relationship with the EU was achievable but dismissed support of a No Deal Brexit as being “for the birds”.
“There are two things going on,” he said.
“One is we are absolutely clear that No Deal is very bad for the economy. This idea that it is OK and manageable, and for some people almost preferable, is for the birds.
“We have built for generations our economy on collaboration and frictionless trade with Europe. If you just rip that away with a cliff edge it is like ripping someone’s crutches away. You don’t just get up and walk again you need a period of transition.
“We are very clear about that and I think that is very well understood by many, not by all, but by many. And business should take credit for having the courage to actually stand up and say what it means.
“The second part which is actually what matters right now is that the more this goes on, this uncertainty that there is, the more the mood music suggests that No Deal is a possibility, businesses have to prepare for it.
“The phrase is that we are hoping for the best and planning for the worst. That means people stopping investment, that is diverting investment overseas, that means diverting jobs overseas, that is an immediate impact on people lives and people’s livelihoods.
“So if we want to protect our economy something has got to change because business can only act on what they see around them. That is why the sense of urgency for both Europe and the UK to compromise quickly, to get that withdrawal agreement agreed, to get that transition, so that we have time to build a new economic relationship, is so fundamental.
“It feels slightly like bickering over three months here or there is small fry compared to the mountain of risk that surrounds a future deal.”
The CBI’s stance on Brexit has led to a great deal of criticism from certain quarters.
Prominent members of the traditionally pro-business Tory party, have rounded on the organisation with former foreign secretary Boris Johnson heard to remark “f