Why One Yorkshire devolution campaign must now win hearts and minds – Michael Meadowcroft

THE campaign for “One Yorkshire” has stalled. Lots of fine words, occasional pats on the head from a visiting government minister, including Boris Johnson, but nothing concrete.

Progress on One Yorkshire devolution stalled.
Progress on One Yorkshire devolution stalled.

It is locked firmly inside the council chambers of Yorkshire local authorities rather than being embraced enthusiastically by men and women in all corners of this county.

Unless and until it is actively promoted across Yorkshire, it will never command the power and influence it needs to become a reality. Having struggled to come together and to decide to go for one Yorkshire-wide body, it is odd that collectively, and even individually, the 22 local authorities lack passion.

Michael Meadowcroft is a former Liberal MP.

The case for spreading power from London is vivid. At the moment not only does central government spend far more public money on infrastructure and services in London than it does in Northern regions, but it even controls the release of the cash raised by those councils themselves.

Powers have been sliced away from local authorities bit by bit over the past 70 years, and because it has been done little by little, it has failed to rouse the anger of the councillors themselves, let alone incited the electors to man the barricades.

Boris Johnson is committed to devolution.

Look at the difference between then and now. Back in 1948, cities such as Bradford, Hull, Leeds and Sheffield controlled gas, electricity, local transport, water, local hospitals, most social security, further education, some higher education, all publicly funded schools, ambulances, police and the fire service.

Today every single one of these services is now either run by the national government, by unaccountable joint boards or has been privatised. Why can Scotland, with a population less than Yorkshire, have these powers and more while we in Yorkshire have to put with poor services without any opportunity to improve them?

Yorkshire’s citizens have a greater sense of identity with their county than anywhere else in England. How then can their affinity with their home county be energised and made effective for change? First it requires businesses, directors, trade unions, local community organisations and voluntary bodies to have the ammunition in their hands to enable them to lobby ministers and MPs effectively. We cannot wait for local authorities to mobilise. Liberals have always been keen on devolution and have taken the initiative into their own hands.

Back in the 1920s, Lloyd George brought together politicians and experts to produce a series of publications on the problems of the day. The series of reports had different coloured covers and the most popular, which later had the title We can conquer unemployment had a yellow cover. Consequently subsequent Liberal reports have often had the title “Yellow Books”. Now 19 writers, covering all three Ridings and spanning a wide range of ages and of specialisms, have combined to produce a book of essays on a Liberal future for Yorkshire and the Humber. Not all of them are card-carrying party members but all of them are liberal sympathisers with a deep interest in bringing power and influence, and real decision-making, to the county of Yorkshire.

The writers include three Liberal Democrat peers, Lords Harris, Newby and Shutt, with a further peer, the cross-bencher and former Labour politician, Chris Haskins, providing the foreword. Other chapters deal with entirely new subjects. Colin Speakman explains that Yorkshire’s archaeology underpins the One Yorkshire project and Dame Helen Wallace examines the long history of immigration into Yorkshire.

A very different perspective is provided by Julia Gash who tells how she initiated a Eurozone in the heart of Sheffield. It also explains why the 20 per cent of Yorkshire that is rural requires a single Yorkshire authority rather than tagging along behind a city region. It also tackles the thorny issue of a single-elected mayor as opposed to a political council leader.

The aim is to build up a broad team of well-informed proponents across Yorkshire able to spread the case for One Yorkshire and to be effective in twisting the arms of MPs and ministers. It is no use leaving it to politicians within the existing local councils. It has to capture the hearts and minds of our neighbours who have the awareness and the determination to make the change happen.

* The Yorkshire Yellow Book 2019 – Essays on a Liberal future for Yorkshire and the Humber is available via www.beecroftpublications.co uk, price £10.

* Michael Meadowcroft was a Leeds city councillor, 1968-1983, and Liberal MP for Leeds West, 1983-87.