The President of Leeds Chamber of Commerce has issued an impassioned plea to Whitehall on behalf of the city’s business community to break the deadlock over devolution in Yorkshire.
Speaking at the Chamber’s annual dinner, Paula Dillon lamented that the widespread support in the region for a unified Yorkshire devolution deal appeared to be “polls apart” from the position of politicians in Westminster.
In her last speech as the Chamber’s president she implored MPs to break the impasse in 2019 and allow for Yorkshire to be handed decision-making powers as seen elsewhere in the UK.
Ms Dillon said: “Having reviewed my speech from last year, I note that I said, ‘I understand we are now closer to some kind of deal with Whitehall.’
“Twelve months later it is abundantly clear to business leaders across the region that we appear to remain poles apart from views in Whitehall.
“In 2012 this region led the way with the country’s largest City Deal, which included £1bn for transport investment.
“It is immensely frustrating to see how far back we have fallen as other regions power ahead with their devolution ambitions.
“As business leaders we implore our politicians to be pragmatic and break the impasse in 2019.”
Her plea comes in a week which saw Treasury minister Robert Jenrick question whether Yorkshire represents what he called a “functioning economic geography” for the purposes of devolution.
Mr Jenrick said it was “not clear” that the case had been made about the benefits of devolution to what he described as “a historic county on the scale of Yorkshire”.
It is immensely frustrating to see how far back we have fallen as other regions power ahead with their devolution ambitions.Paula Dillon
Last year a study was presented to Government detailing how a Yorkshire-wide devolution proposal could add as much as £30bn a year to the region’s economy creating the largest devolved economy outside of London by boosting exports and creating more businesses. The report’s authors said that such a deal would benefit the 5.3m people in the region by an average of £5,400 a year.
Devolution deals have been agreed and implemented in Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool and the Tees Valley area but Yorkshire remains in limbo.
The Sheffield City Region deal agreed in 2015 with then-Chancellor George Osborne has not been implemented as Doncaster and Barnsley’s leaders who pulled out last year in favour of the One Yorkshire model.
Elsewhere Ms Dillon, who will hand over the presidency to fellow lawyer Amanda Beresford this year, had praise for the successful bid to bring Channel 4 to Leeds.
“Leeds is the city I have chosen to call home and I, probably like all of you, was immensely proud when Channel Four announced they too were also going to make their home here. It is a great endorsement of the many advantages which our city has to offer and we join all the businesses in the room in welcoming Channel 4 as an addition to the many quality businesses represented across the city and in this room tonight.”
Ms Dillon targeted getting more women into STEM professions as her central objective of her time in office and has acted as a champion of highlighting more female role models in this field as one of the means of achieving this.
As the first female president of Leeds Chamber of Commerce, and as someone who is preparing to hand over to another female business leader, Ms Dillon had this to say.
“I am delighted that the Chamber is no longer a male bastion and that my successor as President, Amanda Beresford, will confound the belief expressed to me that ‘You can’t have two women, it’s taking it too far’
“The Chamber holds Womens lunches which are really well attended – some men attend too and are welcome - and provides guidance and support for female business people. There are those who question this and believe that it is ‘going too far’ or that having targets or ambitions for gender equality is reverse discrimination or will lead to ‘average women getting the best jobs’.
“Well I tested this at a Women in STEM event that I hosted with my US partners in Silicon Valley last September. I asked the audience what they thought of this view and one of the delegates gave me a great quote, which I would like to leave you with this evening.
“‘True equality will not be achieved when a female genius is just as likely to win the Nobel Prize as a male genius, but when a female schmuck is just as likely to get the top job as a male schmuck’”.