MPs put on united front for region

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A UNITED front is vital to securing economic growth in Yorkshire and closing the north-south divide, a cross-party group of MPs said at a summit on the future of the region.

Around 100 delegates from the public, private and voluntary sectors joined members of the All Party Parliamentary Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire Group for the Yorkshire: 2012 and Beyond conference.

Panels spoke on the need for better transport links, stimulating the manufacturing industry, green growth, increasing training and employment opportunities, and sustaining culture and sport to attract tourism to the region.

Findings from the event will be published as a report for MPs and peers and be used to lobby for investment in Yorkshire at Westminster.

Bradford East MP David Ward, vice-chairman of the newly-formed All Party Parliamentary Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire Group, emphasised how important it was to cast aside party differences in order to do so. “It is absolutely vital. We have got to start speaking with one voice and we’ve got to start punching our weight as a region.

“We have got a gap that’s been created by the regional development agencies such as Yorkshire Forward, so we need to all pull together.

“The thing that brings us together is we’re all regional MPs. We have an important role beyond our own party political interests, to bang the drum for this region. There is a clear commitment to do that.”

Mr Ward stressed the crucial need to fight together as a region for investment opportunities, pointing to Yorkshire’s three separate bids, from Hull, Sheffield, and Leeds, for the Green Investment Bank, which was lost to Edinburgh in March.

“We ended up competing against each other and we’ve got to speak with one voice,” said the Lib Dem MP.

“That is the simple, important message to come out of today. We need, on these major issues, to approach Government with one voice, and a loud voice.”

The sentiment was echoed in a statement by Brigg and Goole Conservative MP Andrew Percy and Huddersfield Labour MP Barry Sheerman, who jointly chair the newly-launched group.

“Now, perhaps more than ever, is the time to put party politics aside and work together as MPs to help unlock the growth that our local constituents need, however they may choose to vote,” they said.

“The fact is that the region of Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire does not get the attention or the credit it deserves, in terms of the critical role it plays for the UK economy.”

Speakers pointed to the need to address under-investment in Yorkshire compared with the south of England.

David Hogarth, development director for West Yorkshire public transport authority Metro, said: “Transport spend in London in the last year or so was three times the spend in Yorkshire and the Humber, and that’s just got to be wrong. We need to address that.

“We have been drip-fed bits of investment but we need to see the whole of that because it sets the scene for so many other forms of investment.”

The conference at Leeds Metropolitan University’s Rose Bowl building was organised by political publisher Dods and sponsored by Welcome to Yorkshire.

Gary Verity, chief executive of the tourism body, said: “We support the all parliamentary group of MPs and we think it is very important that Yorkshire’s voice must be heard, certainly in Westminster.

“Cross-party backing is really important to make sure that the county gets a fair deal.”