One Yorkshire devolution dream should not be abandoned: Michael Meadowcroft

JUST 20 months ago, 18 of the 22 local authorities in Yorkshire and the Humber signed on for devolution to a One Yorkshire authority.

Would one Yorkshire devolution benefit Yorkshire?
Would one Yorkshire devolution benefit Yorkshire?

Dan Jarvis MP accepted nomination and subsequent election as Mayor for the Sheffield City Region while making it clear that he saw this regional authority as an interim body leading to the One Yorkshire proposal.

Now the leaders of the five West Yorkshire metropolitan authorities have accepted a city region deal pressed on them by the Government – but, unlike Dan Jarvis, have not in the past six weeks since the Government’s proposals made any commitment to an eventual One Yorkshire deal.

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In effect the Government has divided Yorkshire in order to maximise its influence over policy within the county.

Michael Meadowcroft is a former Liberal MP, and One Yorkshire proponent.

As the 18 local authorities argued in the earlier statement, in September 2018, a single Yorkshire authority, with the same population as Scotland and a powerful economic and social base, would pose a formidable challenge to Westminster and Whitehall.

The London powers-that-be have clearly recognised this and have chosen instead to offer devolution to smaller and less threatening bodies.

It hardly represents a great leap forward to give West Yorkshire a new Metropolitan County with exactly the same borders as the old authority abolished by Margaret Thatcher in 1986.

It is at least a recognition of the error of replacing the former metropolitan county by the plethora of separate authorities that now make up the West Yorkshire Combined Authority.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak signs off West Yorkshire's devolution deal with the area's council leaders.

There were a number of good points about the metropolitan counties, not least the management of the police within a more holistic environment, so that policies which impinged on policing, such as strategic planning and transport, were able to be discussed in a more co-operative framework, rather than being separated out as at present.

But the biggest drawback was that they were too big to be local authorities and too small to be regions. The new proposals simply repeat the same compromise and it will have the same failings.

By signing on for this halfway house, the five council leaders are succumbing to the ultimate irony that the Government’s conception of devolution does not allow the devolved participants to determine their future, at a price which I do not believe amounts to a significant bonus over its present expenditure.

This applies also to the Government’s insistence on the new West Yorkshire authority having an elected mayor – despite the firm local belief that this will set up a conflict with the elected members of the combined authority and will seriously blur the important distinction between elected political leader and chief executive.

Above all else, this West Yorkshire authority concentrates attention on the urban areas whereas the One Yorkshire concepts ensures that the rural communities – which amount to some 20 per cent of the county – are fully represented within all the decision making processes.

I hope that North Yorkshire and the East Riding make sure that their legitimate fears are well heard.

The identity and the economic and political strengths of the One Yorkshire vision should not be abandoned.

Michael Meadowcroft is a former Liberal MP for Leeds East.

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