Mark Casci: Below average is not good enough for our great region

The Yorkshire Dales National Park.
The Yorkshire Dales National Park.
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The news published into today’s EY Regional Economic Forecast that Yorkshire ranks at the foot of the table when it comes to GVA and employment prospects makes for grim reading as we count out the final few days of the year.

The accountancy and advisory firm reports that, while Yorkshire is a strong and growing economy, it is not growing as quickly as many of its competitors.

Hull 2017

Hull 2017

The South East, predictably tops the league table for growth prospects at 2 per cent GVA growth until 2020. The national average lies at 1.5 per cent. Yorkshire comes in at 1.4 per cent, with only the North East below us.

Worse is that the prediction for jobs growth is flat, with employment expected to increase by just a pathetic 0.1 per cent, with the majority of the growth somewhat predicted to take place in Leeds.

Perhaps most worrying is the news that Manchester is named as joint fastest growing city in the country.

I have to say I, much like EY’s senior partner for Yorkshire, Suzanne Robinson, found the gloomy outlook surprising.

Malham Cove.

Malham Cove.

From SMEs to large corporates I have found the mood around the region to be largely positive despite the tumultuous backdrop in which they are required to do business.

What is not surprising however is the reasons behind the malaise.

Once again transport issues, skill levels and an over arching need for better-supported Local Enterprise Partnerships are all cited as areas that require urgent attention.

It is clear that there is no easy fix for all of these areas.

PILOT: The new scheme is offering broadband grants.

PILOT: The new scheme is offering broadband grants.

Even if Chris Grayling decided this morning that Northern Powerhouse Rail is an essential infrastructure project for the whole country it would still not be operational for decades.

Improving skill levels is a national project. And as for better funding for the regions, we are already at a disadvantage due to the lack of locally elected mayors. One only needed to see last month’s Budget to realise that it is those places with devolution agreements in place that will find greater favour with Whitehall.

So what can be done in the here and now?

Firstly connectivity. One of the key issues identified by EY was that towns were falling behind cities when it came to GVA.

There are myriad reasons for this but one of the main ones is that the broadband services is not up to scratch.

It cannot be right that we have a two-tier system for digital connectivity. It is as vital a utility as water and electricity. Improvements from the public and private sector in this regard are a must.

Secondly, there has never been a more vital time for this region to fight tooth and nail for its say over Brexit.

A regional trade strategy which enables all of our regions’ strengths to be represented can afford a opportunity for a bright future for Yorkshire’s towns, cities and villages.

The fact that the lunacy of hard Brexit looks increasingly unlikely is without doubt in all of interests too.

Finally, and I know this column touches on devolution frequently, but this needs to be sorted once and for all.

I have long advocated the One Yorkshire approach to this matter and consider it unquestionably the best and most powerful for the whole region.

However we need something, anything, as a matter of urgency on this matter and we need the leaders to carry it out.

I do not wish to dishearten readers. We are still a growing, prosperous, innovative and compassionate regional economy and one which is attractive on a global basis.

But we can and must be doing better in many areas.

I don’t have time for New Year’s Resolutions but Yorkshire really has no shortage of ideas as to what path it must take in 2018. Below average is not good enough for this great county.