ON the day that Barnsley and Doncaster Councils meet to ratify plans to let local residents have their say on devolution, and the strength of support for the countywide One Yorkshire blueprint, through a community poll – a referendum in all bar name – the issue’s importance is reiterated by today’s State of the North 2017 report which makes sobering reading.
In short, the IPPR North think-tank concludes that not only will the region be left behind unless the Government devolves “real economic power”, but the so-called Millennials and Generation Z will move away to further their career ambitions unless there’s a step change in industrial policy so businesses can withstand the twin threats of Brexit and automation.
If this wake-up call does not spur national, regional and local leaders into action, Yorkshire will be even less well-placed to challenge those ministers like Transport Secretary Chris Grayling who still need to be persuaded that future economic growth here depends on the level of actual investment in the road and rail infrastructure.
Today’s findings are stark. The North will need 2.7m more working-age people to support its ageing population by 2030. As such, the region needs to be doing more to encourage dynamic and cutting-edge tech companies to relocate here in greater numbers – they are the future – and this area needs to take greater ownership of this challenge.
Furthermore, the pace of technological advances means more jobs and functions will become automated, placing an even greater onus on the need to create skilled jobs in sufficient numbers to support a growing population. Innovation strategies now need to be turbo-charged; further reason why the dithering over devolution is now counter-productive.
And Brexit, it is concluded, will have nearly twice the impact on the North’s GDP as it will on London’s. The IPPR North is not alone. Sally Jones, director of international trade policy at Deloitte, tells The Yorkshire Post that she cannot foresee a trade deal with the European Union being secured for several years, and that interim measures will have to be agreed prior to the UK leaving the EU in 2019.
If the North is to finally fulfil its potential, rather than being a drag on the economy, it needs to heed two of the more profound points made in the Commons debate that Mr Grayling snubbed. The first was made by Hull North MP Diana Johnson who said: “It takes longer to travel from Liverpool to Hull than it does from London to Paris, and that is without the frequent delays.” That’s unacceptable. Then Richmond MP Rishi Sunak warned: “The Northern Powerhouse is a wonderful phrase, but the people of northern England deserve more than a slogan; they need action.”
Coming from a Tory MP who is highly-regarded by his party, it makes the devolution of real powers – and investment – to Yorkshire and the North all the more urgent and necessary.