THE most ambitious region in the country? I’d like to think it is Yorkshire thanks to the visionaries and trailblazers who live and work here.
The most outspoken? Definitely. Just as one department store is never knowingly undersold, this county has never been understated. The most influential? Not any more for one very simple reason – devolution – and the deadlock that is now a national embarrassment.
As business leaders from the CBI meet MPs, and decision-makers, at Parliament, the marginalisation of God’s own county is becoming starker by the day.
Following the election of metro-mayors in May, notably in rival regions like Greater Manchester and the West Midlands, at least three developments have occurred:
First Minister Damian Green promised to work with elected mayors on the transformation of social housing following the Grenfell Tower tragedy in London;
The National Infrastructure Commission’s latest report was launched by chairman Lord Adonis with metro-mayors because of the importance of local leadership;
Yorkshire was the notable absentee when Brexit Secretary David Davis met metro-mayors in York – the North West’s Andy Burnham had to speak for us.
Now the Department for Exiting the European Union, headed by Mr Davis, has refused, in response to Freedom of Information requests, to “confirm or deny” it has analysed the potential impact of Brexit on Yorkshire. It says answering the question could lead to “pre-emptive and reactionary assumptions from stakeholders” and that there was an “overwhelming public interest” in refusing the request. Why? I suspect a Yorkshire mayor could not be dismissed so easily.
I could go on. Yorkshire will, in all likelihood, be excluded from upcoming trade missions. And any hope, for example, of joining Birmingham and Liverpool in the race to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games – and use this global event as a driver of economic and social regeneration – didn’t make it to the starting blocks because of the political factionalism in a county renowned for its Olympic-like sporting prowess.
The economic cost of this intransigence is growing by the day – how many more opportunities must be missed before this region’s councils and MPs realise that their party-political antics (both the Tories and Labour are to blame in equal measure) are putting the jobs, and futures, of the people they purport to serve at risk?
Yet, just at the time residents here are becoming more engaged with the process and the national media are acknowledging the wider significance if the whole of Yorkshire secures a landmark region-wide devolution deal, the stalemate is greater than ever.
The latest is this: Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry is still intent on holding metro-mayor elections in South Yorkshire next May despite Barnsley and Doncaster Councils effectively leaving their counterparts in Sheffield and Rotherham to their own devices.
And because the Government insists on holding an election that few appear to want, most of North Yorkshire’s rural councils have distanced themselves from the One Yorkshire ‘coalition of the willing’ that they joined on August 1 – Yorkshire Day – because they want the West, North and East Ridings to join forces.
Given this is Mr Berry’s position, I can only assume that the Tories have concluded that this is the best chance of a Conservative mayor being elected in this region because it negates Labour’s electoral dominance in the south of the county.
Believe me, the machinations are that cynical on both sides. And the consequences are three-fold: the longer the impasse remains both nationally and locally, the harder it will be for Yorkshire to reverse decades of under-investment in its transport and business infrastructure, be the engine that drives the Northern Powerhouse and simply be taken seriously in the corridors of power.
Someone needs to show some magnanimity, recognise the futility of these political power struggles and take heed of the Archbishop of York’s tweet: “Now #Yorkshiredevolution has been raised in Parliament, it is time to consult with Leaders of councils & civic groups. We must work together.”
For, even though devolution is supposedly about empowering regional economies, this has been allowed to become secondary to political considerations and I hope this region’s 56 MPs turn out in force today to meet the CBI and hear, from business leaders, how Yorkshire’s leadership vacuum is making it harder for businesses – the drivers of growth – to prepare for Brexit.
After all, it’s not their jobs on the line (unless there’s another snap election). It is the jobs and futures of their constituents. And, if no agreement can be reached, I suggest a Yorkshire-wide referendum is held where the devolution options are put to the most important constituency of all – the people.
Though such votes are divisive and polarising as Brexit proved, it is becoming the option of last resort for those, like myself, who want the ambition of Yorkshire’s go-getters and ingenious innovators to match the county’s influence as a national and international force.