Mark Casci: The mood is changing, a One Yorkshire devolution settlement is coming

Optimism is growing that Yorkshire's devolution deadlock could be solved
Optimism is growing that Yorkshire's devolution deadlock could be solved
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MY mood regarding devolution prospects for Yorkshire has gone through the mill this past few months.

From quiet optimism at the start of the year my hopes that the region could take control over its finances and infrastructure spending, and benefit from tens of millions of pounds of extra funding, had begun to gradually fade.

Business bosses have called for a devolution resolution. Picture: Chris Etchells

Business bosses have called for a devolution resolution. Picture: Chris Etchells

The cracks in the Sheffield City Region seemed to get deeper with each passing week and a deal for the rest of the region appeared lost in a quagmire of partisan squabbling as politicians failed to find common ground in order to put the needs of their constituents ahead of those of their own ambitions and entrenchment.

I am often asked for my views on devolution and have a well-worn example that I use to sum them up in that I describe myself as a lone tree in the middle of a vast field, one which bends whichever way the wind happens to be blowing.

So keen was I for this to happen for the region that I was virtually prepared to support any deal that would see powers devolved to the region.

With the deal for Sheffield having encountered troubles it still looks likely to go ahead. A similar option for the Leeds City Region would have had my support too.

Business leaders now need to galvanise the devolution debate, says Chris Hearld.

Business leaders now need to galvanise the devolution debate, says Chris Hearld.

Any devolution for me is better than no devolution.

My preference, however, has always been for one that unites the region. I have argued tirelessly that a Yorkshire-wide economic proposition is one that offers incredible power.

It would comprise the manufacturing prowess of South Yorkshire, the food and drink excellence of North Yorkshire, the renewable energy innovation of East Yorkshire and the professional services and digital mastery of West Yorkshire.

In short it could be genuinely world-beating.

Wonderfully, in recent weeks the prospect of a deal for Yorkshire has come back to life.

Bosses of councils in Barnsley and Doncaster have begun to explore a new deal, one which sees them throw their lot in with the majority of West Yorkshire councils, as well as Hull and most of North Yorkshire.

The plan is at odds with the Government’s preferred model for devolution. Certainly the new Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry has made his views clear that he sees no future for a so-called One Yorkshire deal.

However in this regard he must institute a profound rethink. Devolution to the English regions is in its infancy. There is no reason to stick to a rigid framework that dictates that all devolution deals must focus on city areas.

And after all what greater sign of devolution being a serious Government priority could there be than letting the regions themselves have a say in how it would be administered?

Another crucial area for action is allowing the Sheffield deal to finally get over the line. Chesterfield and Bassettlaw have pulled out with Barnsley and Doncaster seemingly next. But Rotherham and Sheffield are staying the course. Their commitment is admirable.

I wish it all the success and also offer the thought that there is no reason it and the One Yorkshire deal could not unite at some point in the future.

Elsewhere, it would be a far more viable option for progress if the outstanding West Yorkshire councils got on board with the One Yorkshire idea. There is more to be gained than lost and this could well be your last chance to be part of something special.

Above everything, it is utterly crucial that every area of this new One Yorkshire entity shares an equal share of the spoils that will come from enhanced devolution. This deal is all about bringing Yorkshire together and that arrangement must be permanent, not merely a means of securing a deal.

There is a great deal of work to be done but I am more hopeful than I have been in months that we are getting there.

Indeed, my little tree is starting to feel like it has a hell of a gale building behind it.