FOUNTAINS Abbey will provide the glorious backdrop to a meeting today between Cabinet Minister James Brokenshire and Yorkshire council leaders. There could not be a finer historic venue in the county to start meaningful talks about Yorkshire’s political and economic future.
The county has a population of 5.3 million – as big as Scotland’s – and boasts a proud history and unique self-identity. Yet Yorkshire has so far been left behind in the drive for devolution which has led to the election of mayors in the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Liverpool and three other areas.
The UK economy is at a critical juncture. The importance of all parts of the country being able to play their full part in an economically flourishing, globally competitive country has never been greater.
To this end, the Yorkshire Council Leaders Board commissioned an independent report setting out ‘the economic rationale for devolving to Yorkshire’.
This presents a compelling case for One Yorkshire devolution, identifying the region as an ‘economically coherent’ area comprising several smaller, functional economic areas with strong interconnections and similar priorities.
The study identified policy areas where devolution to Yorkshire could deliver significant economic impact. On exports, Yorkshire devolution could lead to better promotion, business support and use of assets. This could lead to added value of up to an estimated £10.4bn per year.
Compared with some other English regions, Yorkshire has a relatively unskilled workforce, with productivity suffering as a result. The study found that higher-level skills would ‘benefit from pan-Yorkshire leadership and arrangements’.
This could close the productivity gap between Yorkshire and the rest of the country, and attract more investment in the region. There would also be the capacity for greater leadership and co-ordination on transport, greater inward investment, investment in research and development and more support provided to businesses on a regional level.
In all of these policy areas, One Yorkshire devolution is estimated to add significant value to the region. Altogether, the study concludes One Yorkshire devolution would add up to £30bn per year to Yorkshire’s economy.
Yorkshire’s pursuit of a devolution deal with the Government is based on a simple idea – by taking more of the big decisions that affect this region here, we can make life for our communities better and do it faster. It is an exciting opportunity and a chance to harness the county’s ambition and potential.
Local council leaders want to work with Government on this, not against them. One Yorkshire devolution is a massive prize for this region, but it is also a massive prize for the country too.
It means a directly-elected Yorkshire mayor working with a cabinet of Yorkshire council leaders and taking decisions in God’s Own County which are currently made in Whitehall. The strength of the Yorkshire brand is as strong on the coast as it is in inner city Leeds and Sheffield.
Transport is one of the areas where Yorkshire decision-making will certainly make a difference. We could have an affordable single Yorkshire-wide smart ticketing system which would enable people to travel more easily between all of our rural, coastal and urban areas. This will help give citizens of Yorkshire the access to the jobs and opportunities that Londoners have been enjoying for years.
Down the centuries, Fountains Abbey has been a place for contemplation and now is the time for all involved in this debate to strike a deal. One Yorkshire devolution will take some time to plan and implement and a target date of 2022 for the election of the first mayor is now the most realistic.
In the interim, there is no reason why the South Yorkshire Mayor (Dan Jarvis) cannot assume further powers and a budget up until 2022 so long as the Government is prepared to agree interim devolution deals in the meantime which would not involve elected mayors for the rest of the county.
It is significant that the latest letter received by council leaders from the Government made no mention of the proposal put forward by some of our colleagues that the county should have four mayors.
This would lead to the Balkanisation of England’s biggest and greatest county and result in much duplication and waste of resources. Archbishop John Sentamu hit the nail on the head when he said now is the time for Yorkshire people to be united, not divided, and that we are better together in Yorkshire.
Compromise is possible involving a series of interim devolution deals to be negotiated between Government and the councils, and a commitment by all to start talking seriously about One Yorkshire devolution for the next stage. The generations of Yorkshire monks who made their lives at Fountains Abbey would surely have approved of such an approach.
Robert Goodwill is the Conservative MP for Scarborough and Whitby, and John Grogan represents Keighley. They are the co-chairs of the One Yorkshire Committee.