Jayne Dowle: Looking ahead to a better and devolved Yorkshire

Will Yorkshire devolution take shape in 2019?
Will Yorkshire devolution take shape in 2019?

MY grandma used to say be careful what you wish for because you might just end up landed with it. Therefore, I will formulate my New Year wishes for Yorkshire with care.

I’d like to say, for instance, that the One Yorkshire devolution plans backed by this newspaper, Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis and others will come to fruition before the next 12 months are over. However I don’t have much faith in any deal being brokered in the current climate.

To be fair, I’d rather wait and see what happens next in the sorry saga of Brexit. A successful devolution deal would rely not only on the co-operation of Westminster, but also timing. We need to be at the forefront of whatever shape England takes when the Brexit dust has settled. For now, I’m going to concentrate my wishing on the hope that there can be more understanding within Yorkshire itself.

We’re a county of five million people and diversity has long been our strength.

However, there’s simply not enough traffic, either literally or figuratively, between the various sub-regions. The North and South of our county, for example, are often worlds apart in terms of aspirations – and house prices. I’d like the balance to be evened out.

Our region must have some of the largest gaps between rich and poor in the whole of the UK. I’m wishing for more bridges to be built between the millionaire in his mansion and the child growing up in poverty in the inner-city. This is the true meaning of One Yorkshire.

Who knows? Play our cards right and we could end up with Leeds as the UK’s capital city. Before readers in Sheffield and York write in to complain, that last sentence wasn’t entirely serious.

However, there are definitely very strong and well-documented reasons for arguing in favour of a better relationship between the North and London and the South-East. I’d like to wish for not just more respect for our region, but also for a clearer understanding.

Above all, I want politicians and business leaders to recognise that major cities such as Leeds and Sheffield have just as much – if not more – to offer in terms of job prospects and investment opportunities as the capital and its surrounding satellite towns.

Across the North, digital and media industries are thriving, bringing forth entrepreneurs and capitalising on the best of our young talent. And now Channel Four has chosen to base its new headquarters here in Leeds, joining the Sky TV hub at Leeds Dock.

Increasingly, Northern voices will become louder and better-heard. On this note, I also wish for less prejudice against those who speak proudly with their native accents. If BBC News’ North America correspondent Dan Johnson can get all the way to Washington with his broad Barnsley vowels intact, there’s no reason why anyone shouldn’t be taken seriously because of how they say ‘bath’.

However, it’s not too far north of the mark to point out that his return airplane ticket probably didn’t cost very much more than an on-the-day train journey from Yorkshire to London. I’d like to wish for the rail companies to stop being so greedy and complacent and make train travel not only more affordable, but far more reliable and efficient.

The behaviour of train operator Northern this year has been reprehensible. The attitude of the company’s well-paid bosses towards paying customers is appalling and the response of the Secretary of State for Transport is self-serving and dismissive.

For every person stuck on a wet and windy platform late for work yet again, for every family gathering or day trip ruined by missing trains and strike action and for every so-called customer suffering diagnosable stress and anxiety due to the simple act of relying on a train for work, I send a wish that the situation will improve in 2019.

In general, I’m wishing that life just becomes a little easier and more fulfilling all round. I’d definitely put education at the top of this category of my wish-list. It’s no secret that Yorkshire secondary schools continue to underperform against all national measures.

According to the Government’s latest data, 22 schools in Yorkshire, including three in Doncaster alone, still fall below the ‘floor target’ minimum standards for performance.

This is not acceptable. If we are to move forward with confidence, we need our young people to be educated to compete with the best. Too many Yorkshire youngsters are still growing up with the narrowest of horizons.

Naturally, there’s usually a great view around every Yorkshire corner, but sometimes it’s important to see the biggest picture possible. That’s what I’d wish for us all. To create the strongest powerbase with the widest available scope. When you look up to the stars tonight, perhaps you might add it to your list.