IT is make your mind up time for the residents of Barnsley and Doncaster. From today, they will be receiving ballot papers for a community poll on the future of devolution for Yorkshire.
Theirs is a big responsibility; the decision they take could have a profound effect on the future of Yorkshire. The choice before them is binary: do they want their local authority to pursue a wider Yorkshire devolution deal or the narrower Sheffield City Region arrangement?
My constituents have been asking me what I think and my response has been very clear – if we are serious about reducing the political and economic inequalities that exist between North and South, then piecemeal changes aren’t good enough.
When I reflect on the fact that more than one in five Yorkshire’s residents live below the poverty line – and the damage that causes to people’s health, the well-being of our communities and our children’s life chances – I conclude that our solutions must be as ambitious as the challenges we face are serious.
If we really want to unlock the huge potential that exists in Yorkshire and the Humber, we need a game-changing arrangement. With a population larger than any region except London, if we worked together we would have the collective clout to not only compete and co-operate with other parts of the UK, but with the wider world too.
The debate around Brexit has brought this issue into sharp focus. Time after time we heard the mantra ‘take back control’; I heard it on countless doorsteps throughout the referendum campaign.
People were fed up with our part of the world being left out in the cold. They were right. While London and the South East grow more prosperous, Yorkshire lags behind with an average income only 80 per cent that of the national level.
I don’t begrudge this prosperity in the South – but the unfairness has persisted for too long. In 2015/16, public spending per head in Yorkshire was nearly £300 lower than the national average.
This problem is nothing new – employment in Yorkshire has been consistently lower than UK-wide levels since the 1980s. We need to put a stop to this and end the other inequalities and biases that exist.
We need to be confident that we have the talent and the vision to drive our region forward, but we need the powers and the resources to make that happen.
This won’t be easy.
Drawing together such a large and diverse area will be challenging, but whilst the naysayers complain that it’s all a bit too difficult, let’s remind them of the extraordinary character of the people and places of Yorkshire.
It is not in our nature to blow our own trumpet, but there is something unique about Yorkshire. Our people are decent, straight-talking, resilient, and innovative. Our places are magnificent and diverse; from our national parks, to the rolling coast, through our towns to the bustling hubs of our cities.
Yorkshire is a truly global brand respected around the world.
A devolved settlement for all of Yorkshire would give us an extraordinary opportunity to harness our collective energy and focus it on building our region into the powerhouse we all know it can be.
Yorkshire’s economy is already twice the size of Wales’s, three times as large as Northern Ireland’s, and bigger than that of 11 EU countries.
With a regional-wide strategy and focused investment, we could truly become a force to be reckoned with.
But with London receiving 10 times more transport investment per head than Yorkshire, the status quo is clearly not going give us what we need. And nor will a Sheffield City region deal have the scale, the funding or the Yorkshire-wide networks to make the far-reaching changes required.
Yorkshire could then become a place with a cutting edge and inclusive economy, with a workforce that has the skills required to succeed in a post-Brexit economy, forging new trading relationships and grappling with the challenges of automation.
A place with the ability to attract investment from around the globe, as Britain forges a path and develops a new future outside of the EU. A place where every child gets the best start in life and families have access to decent affordable homes, and where every older person has the dignity of a decent retirement. Somewhere that preserves our culture, heritage and creativity as well as protecting our beautiful countryside.
Of course, some will say that this is a pipedream. But I say, let’s work together cross-party, across the county, and let’s forge a new political consensus. One where we work co-operatively, drawing together the collective might of city, town, and village to serve the people of Yorkshire and build a region that stands as a shining example to others.
This is not about Yorkshire against the world, this is about Yorkshire in the world – and we now have a narrow window to persuade the Government to take the One Yorkshire idea seriously.
We owe it to ourselves, our children and our grandchildren to give it a go.
I’m up for it, are you?
Dan Jarvis is the Labour MP for Barnsley Central.