A GOVERNMENT minister claims she is carrying “scars” on her back because of past differences over Yorkshire devolution as political grandee Michael Heseltine called for Brexit to stop being used as an excuse for delay.
Baroness Williams of Trafford’s admission came as peers pressed the case for One Yorkshire and a countywide leadership model.
The Tory peer, who is also a junior Home Office minister after previously holding a communities brief which involved local government, said Prime Minister Boris Johnson was taking steps to bring about “greater collaboration” and that the Queen’s Speech included a White Paper on the devolution.
“I echo that and the bespoke ongoing discussions across Yorkshire to ensure the most appropriate arrangements,” she added. “I have the scars on my back from some of the earlier discussions in Yorkshire.”
Her comments came at the end of an impassioned debate that saw Lord Heseltine, a former Deputy Prime Minister, challenge the Government to show some greater urgency and recognise that devolution will be even more important after Brexit. He also called for a dedicated Cabinet minister to be given specific responsibility for devolution in order to stop politicians favouring ‘pet’ projects.
Lord Heseltine said: “I await the White Paper with such interest because I hope that the crisis of Brexit has highlighted the urgency of this matter. Brexit did not create the problem.
“Brexit merely highlights the scale of the challenge facing this country and indicates, as your Lordships have clearly done, that we need change to mobilise the country at local as well as national level to challenge these issues.
“Whitehall is its own power structure and is totally divided on all these issues; each Minister has his own pet scheme. We need a Minister to grip Whitehall and force it into the devolution agenda.”
Noting that “boundaries of our existing mayoral authorities are a nonsense”, Lord Heseltine named Leeds as a priority – he later said that he favours “unitary counties” – and that mayors must have powers for education and skills so joined-up industrial policies can be created.
He also sought to reassure rural residents and businesses who fear that their areas are being marginalised. On the day that North Yorkshire’s Rural Commission meets for the first time, Lord Heseltine said: “If you want really to empower the countryside and enrich it, it must be enjoined with the wealth-creating centres that it surrounds.
“So, I very much hope that we will see a drive to unitary counties with mayors, not just the present compromises in the local government structure...I have a phrase written down: “Get the job done”. I say this to the Minister: let us get the real job done.”
Earlier Paul Scriven, a Lib Dem peer from Sheffield, told the Lords: “If we are serious about bringing our country together and dealing with the strains and issues that have caused Brexit, we need a different and more devolved way and better regional and local policies to do so.”