Ben Houchen: My message to Yorkshire. Sort out devolution so North can make even stronger investment case

AS an observer of the long-running stalemate to secure a devolution deal for Yorkshire, I do have some sympathy with your elected leaders.

Ben Houchen is the Mayor of the Tees Valley. He hopes Yorkshire can reconcile its devolution differences so the region can speak with one voice.
Ben Houchen is the Mayor of the Tees Valley. He hopes Yorkshire can reconcile its devolution differences so the region can speak with one voice.

Getting a devolution deal over the line isn’t an easy or straightforward thing to do.

While you may think other regions are steaming ahead, we made it look easy – trust me.

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Devolution in the Tees Valley wasn’t built in a day.

A new economic report suggests Yorkshire devolution could be worth up to £30bn a year.

Although representing a milestone in a project still in its infancy, my election as Mayor was the work of some 20 years of collaboration between the public and private sector, politicians and passionate individuals with a vision to create a new way of working.

Everyone involved put aside differences, left egos at the door, swallowed their pride and made the process as painless as possible.

So while it did take time, we really are reaping the benefits today.

In the last year alone, we have secured more than £200m in additional investment from Government; supported the creation of thousands of jobs and hundreds of start-ups; and put my small corner of the country at the top table alongside London, Birmingham and Manchester.

There are two blindly obvious reasons why Yorkshire is ready to join us.

Firstly, as a Yorkshireman myself, I know you have the size, assets, and that sense of infallible pride and identity that many areas could only dream of.

Secondly, with a population of 5.5 million, Yorkshire is larger than Scotland with a GVA almost to match.

You are a manufacturing superpower, exporting more goods than anywhere outside London.

There’s no doubt that the benefits of devolution are ready to be seized upon, but in what form and over what geography is the multi-million pound question – quite literally.

And it’s that question which has caused such an almighty delay.

One of the many reasons a wider North East deal failed is because the region doesn’t have that single, unified economic geography.

Villages in Northumberland are just too economically and culturally removed from the bustling cities of Newcastle 
and Sunderland, just as the former pit villages of County Durham are equally removed from more affluent suburbs of Barnard Castle.

Try as they did, North East councils couldn’t quite reconcile to one part of the region that an investment in another would be in their interests.

It seems oddly parochial, but this is important if local people are to be convinced that yet another layer of 
local government will work for them 
and their community.

In reality, this will mean a future 
‘One Yorkshire’ mayor must have the ability to persuade residents of Rotherham that an upgrade to the 
railway station at Northallerton is an investment in them. It’ll be tricky, but 
not impossible.

But that aside, there are some universal truths why having a Mayor is a good thing for Yorkshire.

Whoever it is, they will give you a single, powerful voice for the county, at home and abroad.

They can unlock investment from Government coffers, but also from international companies.

They can stand up for you in Whitehall, while introducing Yorkshire businesses to new markets.

They will be your single point of contact and act as an ambassador on the world stage, putting the county rightly on par with major cities and nation states.

I don’t need to tell you that the people best placed to make the right choices 
for any given area are the people that 
live and breathe it.

We have seen the benefits clearly in my patch, and there’s nothing stopping Yorkshire achieving the same.

If Yorkshire were to play to its strengths in a similar way, the opportunity for growth is limitless.

With a future Mayor of Yorkshire, 
I’m looking forward to the day that 
we will be finally able to deliver a truly pan-Northern perspective to Government – not just a Manchester-dominated north-western one.

While Brexit is dominating the Government’s time and efforts, this cannot distract us from making the case for the major investment we desperately need. And I want Yorkshire to join us.

So whatever shape devolution takes, 
it’s up to leaders across the county to put the colour of their rosettes to one side, come together and push for what people living, working and investing there truly want – an even stronger voice. It stands to us to fulfil the promise to drive the North’s ambitions – to be even greater than we have ever been before, and play our part in delivering a fair, balanced, vibrant economy.

Because at the end of the day, shy bairns really do get nowt.

Ben Houchen is the Conservative Mayor of the Tees Valley.