AT LAST. There’s now every likelihood that Yorkshire will elect its very first county-wide mayor in 2020 after council leaders signed an unprecedented joint letter to Theresa May confirming they had reached a long-awaited agreement on devolution.
A show of strength ahead of today’s pivotal meeting between Communities Secretary Sajid Javid and 18 town hall leaders, it’s also indicative of the progress – and compromises – that have been made in recent times.
Now it’s up to Mr Javid to reciprocate by committing the Government to put in place the necessary laws so that a mayor can be elected, and combined authority established, by May 2020.
After all, he challenged local leaders to come up with a workable plan. They’ve done so. He then called for a consensus. This letter has been signed by 18 out of 20 councils. And he said this May’s mayoral contest in Sheffield City Region was non-negotiable. This is accepted – the assumption is that the winning candidate will remain in post for two years, working for South Yorkshire, until countywide arrangements are in place.
Though it is regrettable that Sheffield and Rotherham Councils are not amongst the signatories, they do now recognise the ambitions of the One Yorkshire agenda and the dynamic will change still further if Barnsley MP Dan Jarvis becomes the area’s mayor in May – he is committed to making the post redundant.
Mr Jarvis is among those who have worked tirelessly to advance the devolution debate – it’s two and a half years since David Cameron, the then Prime Minister, mocked Yorkshire’s leaders for their uncanny ability to fall out with each other – and the wise counsel of the Archbishop of York has been crucial to winning the trust of North Yorkshire’s more cautious leaders and noted sceptics like Wakefield Council leader Peter Box who has shown great magnanimity.
Yet, while this process has been a tortuous one, there’s now collective recognition that this county, and its five million people, will be the biggest losers if Yorkshire does not follow the lead being set by rival regions.
Though the county’s four geographical areas have very diverse economies, the challenges – skills, jobs, inward investment and an overhaul of the region’s creaking transport infrastructure – are shared and the need for action becomes more apparent with each passing day.
It’s an irony of timing that the landmark meeting with Mr Javid comes on the same day that Hull North MP Diana Johnson opens a Parliamentary debate on transport funding. With the Northern Powerhouse Partnership also calling for high-speed rail between the area’s major cities to enjoy the same status as HS2 – children born last year would have access to high-speed rail by the time of their 16th birthday if this happens – there’s a discernible sense of purpose, responsibility and determination not to let down future generations.
Having come this far, the onus is now on Mr Javid to recognise that a strong Yorkshire, with even stronger leadership, will transform the North – the 18 council leaders want to double the size of the area’s economy – and benefit the whole country. What’s not to like about this 20:20 vision?