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Devolution: The price of prevarication grows by the week as Yorkshire pleads to be masters of its own destiny

What now for the One Yorkshire devolution plan?
What now for the One Yorkshire devolution plan?
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Last month, I asked a Yorkshire council leader for their view on whether a solution could be found to the long-running devolution saga in the region. He didn't sound very optimistic.

The Yorkshire Post says: Why we still believe in full devolution - but we need to make it happen together
At that stage, the Government seemed entrenched in its position that any transfer of powers and funding from Whitehall to Yorkshire was a no-go if it risked undercutting the more limited deal signed in South Yorkshire in 2015.

An election for a Sheffield City Region mayor was to go ahead in May, but with the victor getting few of the spoils promised two years earlier by George Osborne due to Barnsley and Doncaster pulling out of the agreement made with neighbouring Sheffield and Rotherham.

It was an altogether frustrating situation for those who want the region's leaders to finally be given a chance to control their own destiny, less dependent on the whims of central government and with the ability to achieve much-needed economic growth.

Since then, things have moved on significantly, with both sides moving closer together to reach a compromise that would allow our region to catch up and pack the economic punch its 5.3 million residents and name recognition deserve.

For his part, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid and his junior Minister Jake Berry have proposed a solution where Doncaster and Barnsley councils are potentially allowed to join the majority of other councils in the region by forming a 'One Yorkshire' arrangement covering the entire patch of 5.3m people.

But for this to happen the two local authorities, whose residents recently voted overwhelmingly to be part of of a Yorkshire-wide authority, would have to reinstate their support for the Sheffield City Region deal until the end of a full mayoral term in 2022.

Days later a counter-offer was put forward by the supporters of One Yorkshire, whereby Doncaster and Barnsley rejoin the Sheffield City Region deal, but with an appointed, rather than elected mayor and for two years, rather than four.

This solution would allow the benefits of the Sheffield City Region deal to be realised and permit the election of a Yorkshire combined authority mayor in 2020, alongside a similar poll for any authorities still clinging to the South Yorkshire deal.

Pressed on this proposal at yesterday's Westminster debate on Yorkshire devolution, led with passion and skill by Barnsley MP Dan Jarvis, Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry sounded sceptical.

What is devolution, how will it help us... and why has it taken so long for Yorkshire to reach a deal?
He said his government was reluctant to undo the existing legislation, and even if he could, time would be "extremely tight" to make the necessary procedural changes to move the Sheffield City Region mayoral election back by two years.

But his apparent willingness to at least consider approving a wider deal, if it can get widespread support from all authorities in Yorkshire and the Humber, gives some cause for optimism.

With Rotherham seemingly willing to let its neighbours go their own way, the main stumbling block now appears to be council leaders in Sheffield, whose views on the interim mayor proposal have yet to be made public.

There are also those in wider Yorkshire, including North Yorkshire Conservatives like MP Kevin Hollinrake, who have doubts about a devolution deal covering the whole of the Broad Acres.

And it remains to be seen what configuration would be most suitable for the most powerful local authority outside London, or who might be a suitable candidate to take on the job of mayor.

But as was shown in November's Budget, where areas with metro mayors and devolution deals saw the full benefit of the Chancellor's generosity, the price of prevarication grows by the week.

With the uncertainty of post-Brexit Britain looming large on the horizon, the pressure is now on to take advantage of the growing will for compromise and forge a deal that gives Yorkshire and the Humber the best chance of controlling its own future.

As Hilary Benn, who as chair of the Brexit select committee of MPs understands the challenges and opportunities of leaving the European Union better than most, told last night's Westminster debate: "We are making a simple plea: if they give Yorkshire the tools, we will do the job."

Read more:

Yorkshire devolution: Government warned that 'clock is ticking' to agree region-wide deal
What is devolution, how will it help us... and why has it taken so long for Yorkshire to reach a deal?
Dan Jarvis: How One Yorkshire devolution deal can put county in pole position