Northern Powerhouse Minister: I admire the ambition of the One Yorkshire devolution bid

Jake Berry MP, Minister for the Northern Powerhouse, pictured speaking at an event in Halifax. Picture by James Hardisty.
Jake Berry MP, Minister for the Northern Powerhouse, pictured speaking at an event in Halifax. Picture by James Hardisty.
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Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry gets off to a rocky start when he sits down with The Yorkshire Post to discuss his priorities for the North, by naming a Lancashire pie as his favourite food.

“I don’t want to break the hearts of your readers,” he laughs, “but my favourite pie is a Cissy Green pie from Lancashire”.

The pastry-related revelation reflects Berry’s deep connection to the North.

Born and bred in Liverpool, he continued his education at the University of Sheffield and now lives in and represents the north west constituency of Rossendale and Darwen.

It is his background, he says, that makes him determined to return powers to the region and to be a fierce advocate for devolution in Westminster.

Despite this, he has previously been reserved about the ambitious One Yorkshire deal which has won the backing of many of the area’s political leaders and is being driven forward by Sheffield City Region Mayor and Barnsley MP Dan Jarvis.

But it seems that the Minister’s stance may be softening slightly as he seeks bold new plans to drive the Northern Powerhouse forward.

“I welcome, actually, the spirit of co-operation that has been created by the One Yorkshire movement,” he says.

“It’s very refreshing to see people coming together and talking about their ambitions for wider Yorkshire.”

Those leading the One Yorkshire charge have recently presented plans to his department, in what he describes as a “pretty complex, comprehensive document”.

“Now, they would not expect us to either say yes or no,” he says.

“They want us to give it the proper consideration and work for it to go in on a cross-governmental basis before we talk seriously about whether we can deliver on their ambition for One Yorkshire”.

He adds: “We are heavily engaged with the Treasury, talking to them about that shared ambition that has come forward from Yorkshire and once that is complete, we will be happy to talk about how we can move forward.

“But as I say, completing South Yorkshire is a prerequisite foranything else.”

The South Yorkshire project he is referring to is the stalled Sheffield City Region deal, which was signed in 2015 and has a mayor but no powers or money, as regional leaders have so far failed to agree on terms.

Clearly frustrated, he insists that the plan must progress before bigger initiatives, like One Yorkshire, can be seriously considered.

“I have had lots of meetings with Dan Jarvis,” he says, “because we remain focused on unlocking the Sheffield City Region deal.

“I will tell you why I am focused on that, because it’s kind of personal.

“I spent three years of my life –some of the best years of my life – living in Sheffield.”

“I am a firm believer that to drive the South Yorkshire economy forward that what we need is a powerful elected, accountable individual – which we have in Dan Jarvis.

“But also give him the money to make those decisions, to make those bold plans.

He continues: “It’s one of the greatest frustrations for me that as we get to the end of this financial year there will be £30m that is just taken back into another pot by government that should have been given to the people of Sheffield and they won’t get it because the local authorities cannot agree on what powers they should share and give to the mayor.”

Berry goes on to appeal directly to the region’s politicians to come together and back the deal, branding the current stalemate a “tragedy” and urging them not to forego further, much-needed investment.

“I would say to people across South Yorkshire and especially political leaders across South Yorkshire – do not let next year be the year where you return another £30m to the government because you can’t get it sorted out between yourselves to agree what you should spend that money on.”