JAMES Brokenshire will be assured of a warm welcome when he arrives at Fountains Abbey today, an historic setting which is even more spectacular than the grounds of Hillsborough Castle where he lived, and worked, during his stint as Northern Ireland Secretary.
Then his focus was trying to get rival parties to resume power-sharing at the Stormont assembly after a political scandal. It is still proving elusive. Now Communities Secretary, Mr Brokenshire’s challenge is reconciling the ambitions of Yorkshire leaders over devolution with the Government’s concerns.
His first official meeting in God’s Own County to discuss this issue, the backdrop of Fountains Abbey will, hopefully, inspire those present to take the leap of faith needed to end the devolution deadlock so that focus can finally switch to economic growth, skills and infrastructure – recurring issues which all transcend traditional local authority boundaries.
Mr Brokenshire will not need reminding about the significance of today’s talks and their timing. As one of Theresa May’s most trusted ministers, he, too, has been embroiled in the intricacies of the Brexit negotiations at the expense of progress on other policies.
Yet he will also know that Brexit is also an opportunity, one which compliments the wider Northern Powerhouse agenda, to empower regions like Yorkshire to contribute even more to the national economy – it is estimated that devolution could be worth £30bn a year – and that leaders here have shown great resolution over their collective belief that this county needs to move forward as one if its full potential is to be realised.
Given Mr Brokenshire’s previous involvement with devolution in Northern Ireland, it is hoped that he will acknowledge this county’s steadfastness – the fact that 17 out of 20 councils, plus South Yorkshire’s mayor, the wider business community and civic leaders such as the Archbishop of York, remain so united should speak volumes to him at a time when consensus is proving so elusive elsewhere.
As Mr Brokenshire will discover, he will have far more in common with those present than he, and his advisors, have been led to believe previously.
To this end, The Yorkshire Post welcomes this week’s recognition by Jake Berry, the Northern Powerhouse Minister, that the area’s towns and rural heartlands must not be left behind by devolution – a concern that the One Yorkshire blueprint has long recognised.
Equally, the understanding – even acceptance – by political leaders here that there might have to be an acceleration of city-region deals, the Government’s favoured approach, before a Yorkshire-wide mayor can be elected in 2022.
This spirit of compromise is key. Yet all those present at Fountains Abbey today need to remember, and recognise, that the outcome of their talks is crucial to the fortunes of the 5.2 million people who are proud to call Yorkshire home as well as all those who work in a county which believes that its best days do still lie ahead if and when questions about its leadership are finally settled.
For, as James Brokenshire will discover, the desire here is, in fact, a predominantly conservative one – not more tiers of bureaucracy which risk standing in the way of policy progress, but more effective goverance so that the whole county’s potential can be realised at last. And. on this, there should be full agreement.