WHEN regional devolution was first advocated, it was envisaged that successful entrepreneurs would play a prominent role in decision-making and supplant local politicians.
Yet, while outstanding individuals like the late Barry Dodd made a marked difference, others share the frustrations expressed by leading lawyer Sir Nigel Knowles, the outgoing chairman of the Sheffield City Region LEP.
For, while this Local Enterprise Partnership presided over the growth of advanced manufacturing in the area, and expansion of Doncaster Sheffield Airport, during Sir Nigel’s three years at the helm, he is clearly exasperated by his tenure being overshadowed by the ongoing devolution deadlock.
The white rose equivalent of Brexit, it has found Sheffield and Rotherham at odds with Doncaster and Barnsley which want to join forces with the West, North and East Ridings in order to advance the One Yorkshire agenda which, according to research, could be worth up to £30bn a year to the local economy.
Paraphrasing Senator George Mitchell, one of the architects of the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, Sir Nigel says that “we need our council leaders to be less like blocks of granite in their approach”.
Though this is a New Year wake-up call to councils here because of the extent to which delay and dither will compromise the area’s future, Sir Nigel is only part right with his blunt assessment. The same criticism can also be levelled against the Cabinet minister James Brokenshire and his colleague Jake Berry who refuse to recognise that 18 out of 20 Yorkshire councils, plus Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis, back One Yorkshire because they believe that it is the most effective way of maximising the county’s potential.
Unless the impasse is broken, it will be even harder to persuade business leaders of Sir Nigel’s calibre, innovators who know how to create jobs and generate wealth, to lead the critically important economic growth and skills agenda.