The 'golden opportunity' for Yorkshire's four metro mayors to harness region's power

Yorkshire has a "golden opportunity" to harness its collective power by finding ways for its four new elected metro mayors to work together for the benefit of the region.

Dan Jarvis, handed new powers over transport, skills and housing by Westminster as part of a historic Sheffield City Region devolution deal, issued the call-to-arms to the other regional leaders set to be elected elsewhere in Yorkshire in the next two years.

Devolution deals creating powerful metro mayors for North Yorkshire and York as well as Hull and the East Riding could be agreed by the end of the year, while the West Yorkshire deal was signed in March.

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It means that by 2022 all four corners of the region will have mayoral authorities responsible for transforming their economies and with powers far beyond those currently held by local town halls.

The idea has been backed by Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick, who told The Yorkshire Post that the region’s powerful metro mayors “should cooperate and collaborate on future projects”.

He suggested this could include areas such as tourism and heritage, trade and investment or tackling climate change. Mr Jenrick said: “There will be a number of areas in which those mayors when they're in place, can work together for the great benefits of Yorkshire.”

The Government has rejected attempts to create a single 'One Yorkshire' mayor for the entire region, but Mr Jarvis said: "That doesn't mean that we can't look for every opportunity to cooperate across the county of Yorkshire and I think the potential benefits of doing that are very significant indeed."

The view from the top of Sutton Bank. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

Earlier this year the Government agreed to provide £200,000 in funding for the Yorkshire leaders board of local authority representatives to discuss joint working across the region, with local authorities match-funding the amount.

Mr Jarvis added: "There is a golden opportunity as we further cement devolution deals across Yorkshire to draw together. the collective might across the county.

"And if we get devolution right that can really empower our whole county to bring people together and cooperate on areas of strategic interest, whether that's the economy, whether it's climate change, whether it's transport, whether it's skills, whether it is tourism.

"Certainly from the point of view of South Yorkshire and working with the other leaders across Yorkshire, I will definitely want to look for every opportunity to cooperate and make the most of the strong ties and relationships we already have in place across Yorkshire."

Mark Cowgill, who is the director of Education & Business Internet Service Provider Exa Networks, in Bradford. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

According to Paul Swinney, Director of Policy and Research at the Centre for Cities think-tank, a One Yorkshire deal would have led to a situation where leaders were "constantly making compromises” between people competing for attention.

But he said: "There’s nothing stopping them coming together and I am sure that they will. The majority of issues that metro mayors will face will be quite local and there will be some issues that are county wide in which you will want leaders to come together."

The presence of elected metro mayors across the North with powers to make decisions on transport, housing, skills and education was a major element of the Northern Powerhouse concept which then-Chancellor George Osborne came up with in 2014.

Henri Murison, the director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership lobbying group representing business and civic leaders, predicted all of Yorkshire will have devolution deals agreed by the end of the year.

He said that although there are significant differences in the economies of different areas of the region, he hoped the four elected mayors would be able to work together.

And, with all the current metro mayors elected round the country being men, he added: "I'm particularly keen to see they're not all men.

"I think it's really important that in Yorkshire we lead the way in more diversity representing the voices and the political talent we have at this type of office.

"It is the one weakness of the mayoral model, which I think has made huge strides but it's probably put back the cause of diversity in British politics.

"The business community of Yorkshire doesn't look like that, so it would be very disappointing if our metro mayors were not as reflective as our senior business leaders."

Case study - Exa Networks in Bradford

West Yorkshire has had to wait for more than half a decade to become a devolved region.

However, for one business leader in Bradford, the timing could not be better.

Mark Cowgill is the co-founder and director of Exa Networks, a tech firm based in Bradford city centre.

As a member of the West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce’s policy board he has been campaigning for some time for the region to be given the chance to elect its own metro mayor.

But despite the long wait, he believes the elections scheduled for next Spring could be set to come at an idea time.

“There is never a perfect time for a pandemic,” he told The Yorkshire Post.

“But there is a perfect time for devolution.

“We have the chance to have the biggest impact for the biggest amount of people - way more than say two years ago.

“You only need to look at what has happened in Manchester - we have the chance to do even better than that.”

As a leader in tech and a proud Bradford businessman, Mr Cowgill believes devolution has the potential to transform the region, particularly for young people but also in terms of retraining older workers for the digital era.

With many jobs set to be scrapped owing to the Covid crisis, he sees empowering digital skill levels in the region as a viable solution.

“There is a shortage of digital skills here in Yorkshire and nationally, that is well known.

“Adult education is going to be very important as so many people are going to need to be retrained, this was the case before we even started speaking about devolution.

“There are going to be a lot of people unemployed and there will be sectors that struggle to bounce back, things like tourism and hospitality.

“However digital is booming.”