THE initial belief that Yorkshire’s devolution deadlock could be broken as a result of James Brokenshire’s recent appointment as Communities Secretary appears to have been misplaced. He is a politician accustomed to the intricacies of devolution after an onerous stint as Northern Ireland Secretary.
Yet, while Mr Brokenshire repeatedly placed the onus on local leaders in Northern Ireland to reconcile their deep differences, he’s reluctant to apply this principle to Yorkshire. Why? On a day that will see council chiefs meet to finesse their One Yorkshire blueprint, and when at least 18 out of 20 civic leaders support this proposition, Mr Brokenshire appears unamenable and actually implicates Theresa May – he is so politically close to the PM that he invariably acts on her orders.
In an unhelpful letter released on the eve of this crucial meeting, he effectively said that the Government will not budge until the Sheffield City Region deal, which saw One Yorkshire proponent Dan Jarvis become mayor in May, is implemented in full. And this from a Cabinet minister who hasn’t had the courtesy to visit Yorkshire to meet elected leaders, and business representatives, to discuss how best to bridge the divide between this county and Whitehall.
Even if Mr Brokenshire hopes councils will reappraise their position, they should not allow themselves to be kowtowed by such interventions – it’s uncertain, after this week’s Brexit resignations, whether the Government will survive for the forseeable future – and, instead, finesse a plan which even the most obdurate and obstreperous Ministers have to take seriously.
With MPs like Scarborough and Whitby’s Robert Goodwill now backing One Yorkshire in public, and elections in the south of the country expressing strong support for countywide devolution, it’s time Ministers started listening. The Government is already on the wrong side of the argument when it comes to the unacceptable state of the region’s railways, the North-South education divide and the future of the Northern Powerhouse.
Does it really want to add devolution to that list when council chiefs have listened to Ministers, gone away and come up with a workable plan which has the potential to transform Yorkshire’s economic prospects and benefit the rest of the country?