Richard Carter: Yorkshire can lead a democratic revolution

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A CRISIS avoided? David Cameron’s response to the Scottish “No” vote in the independence referendum suggests that the UK government is going to pursue English votes for English laws rather than regional devolution. Apparently, they have listened. They have not.

We need a Britain that works for all parts, regions and people of the UK and which engages people as citizens rather than consumers of services.

It is a damning indictment that nine out of 10 of the poorest areas in the whole of northern Europe are in our country. Five of those areas are in the North of England. Three of them in historic Yorkshire. At the same time, inner London is the richest. Our current arrangements at local, regional and national level are clearly not fit for purpose. It is time for seismic change – not fiddling while Rome burns.

We believe that we have an opportunity to build a new, successful, forward- looking country, fit for the next 300 years.

Our current problems are being made worse by failures on many levels, but essentially it is a crisis of democracy and legitimacy, made worse by over- centralisation. Democratic change is essential.

Who makes the decisions and regional plans? How do we as citizens influence them and have our say? Do we have the powers to address our needs and opportunities? Are our current ways of governing getting results? We are hearing much about devolution. None of the current suggestions address these questions. They are all missing the point. They are all undemocratic.

But we have devolution theory and devolution fact. Over a quarter of the UK population have some form of regional government that fulfils the criteria of “first class devolution”. The powers to act, and democratic legitimacy. The rest have government by diktat, or a confusing array of unelected bodies that make decisions, not with, but for us.

We have a political class that has followed the path of an over-centralised state run from London. They, and it, are not listening or engaging with the needs of a modern people that demand fundamental changes, and more say in the decisions that affect them.

We have an over-centralised media, culture and society failing to connect with all our regional variation. They too have not been listening.

We have local politicians stripped of powers, clutching at any crumbs that may fall off the Westminster table, eager to focus on their local issues but with little or no focus on the greater challenges facing our region. A regional parliament, with clear funding, budget and powers to act, with a popular mandate, would begin the process of improving the region’s performance, begin to address the failures of the last 40 years.

Where is our voice in Yorkshire? We have 22 local authorities, all with different systems and cycles of elections and 1,225 councillors. Our suggestion would be to use the existing voting boundaries to elect a number of representatives to link localities directly to regional decision-making. This would provide more say locally, and less power to unelected bodies.

A Yorkshire regional government would have consequential effects on all other local political structures, service provision or funded development organisations that would take the lead from the elected regional assembly.

The assembly, developing and ensuring delivery of the strategic needs of the region, is the appropriate body to provide both oversight to local authorities, and leadership.

Coupled with this, an enhancement of the role and focus of town and parish councils would provide a better link from our varied communities to regional government, with real powers.

If we can learn one thing from the Scottish referendum, it was that people can be engaged if it is done in the right way, and connected to real decision making. We can create a Britain fit for purpose with regions and communities empowered to act to build a Britain that works for all its parts.

We encourage all town and parish councils to begin the process of engaging their citizens to establish views on enhancing the influence of local areas.

Yorkshire First is not an independence party. Its prime purpose is to promote Yorkshire from a second class region to one with “first class devolution” – a region with an elected assembly and the powers to act. It is a time for change. It is the time for Yorkshire.

Richard Carter is leader of Yorkshire First.