Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry was entirely correct as he told political and business leaders in Leeds that those based in the North are best placed to deliver for the region’s cities, towns and rural areas.
But in a speech to the Great Northern Conference that came weeks after his Government controversially rejected the One Yorkshire devolution proposal following extensive negotiations and work on the economic and political plan by local leaders, it was somewhat rich of Mr Berry to suggest those same people now must “rise to the challenge” of brokering a new arrangement for transferring powers from Whitehall.
In their 2017 manifesto, the Conservative party made a clear commitment to the creation of a ‘common framework’ for devolution deals across England to offer clarity and provide a consistent criteria for possible deals.
Two years on, and with Parliament and Government mired in faltering preparations for Brexit, that framework is yet to materialise – meaning those seeking effective devolution arrangements for Yorkshire to ensure it does not fall further behind places with existing deals like Greater Manchester and the West Midlands are at a considerable disadvantage when it comes to drawing up proposals that will pass muster with decision-makers.
As Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, pointed out at the same event, Government “rhetoric must be backed by resources” as she noted 70 per cent of the decisions that directly affect her city are currently taken in Whitehall.
Mr Berry is right to say no area of the North should be left behind in the efforts to create regional growth and the Northern Powerhouse concept requires fresh impetus. But to borrow his own phrase, the Government must also rise to the challenge of devolution and start delivering on its promises.