Jo Swinson: Yorkshire Parliament will become a reality under Lib Dems

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Jo Swinson is leader of the Liberal Democrats.

The Liberal Democrats have a long and proud tradition of local government. It stems from the simple belief that local communities know what is best for their residents.

Jo Swinson. Credit: PA

Jo Swinson. Credit: PA

We believe that it is in local communities where people can come together most successfully to work with each other for the greater good of society and to achieve their own potential.

We are committed to a devolution revolution, where we empower people and their communities to make the right decisions about their local area and local public services. No one knows better what works than those who live it, day in and day out.

That is why the Liberal Democrats support the creation of a new democratic body with real power and meaningful financial muscle: a Yorkshire Parliament, directly elected by Yorkshire people, replacing the separate combined authorities and police commissioners.

Not every part of England has the same appetite for powers. So what we would do is enact legislation to empower groups of local authorities to come together to establish devolved governance, such as a Yorkshire Parliament, building on the One Yorkshire campaign.

Crucially we would ensure that any powers devolved are matched by the funding, and the tax powers, to deliver what local people need.

The Manifesto for the North sets out four key areas where national government should release its control and let key decisions be taken regionally - education and training, transport, investment and trade, and a green industrial revolution. We agree.

Liberal Democrats see no reason why far-reaching powers in all four of these areas should not be devolved from national government to Yorkshire and other parts of the North.

In all these areas there are decisions which should be taken nationally, decisions which should be taken locally, and decisions which it makes sense to take at a regional level.

So on transport, for example, a Liberal Democrat national government would back the trans-regional projects that can benefit the Yorkshire economy – such as HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail. And we would give travellers in Yorkshire relief from ever-rising rail fares, by freezing commuter and season ticket fares for the next five years.

But when it comes to our ambitious plans for fixing creaking rail networks, for improvements to bus services, for new light rail and tram schemes, for better provision for cyclists and walkers, while central government can provide the funding it makes sense for regional and local government to set the priorities in each area.

The Manifesto for the North also calls on national government to make rebalancing the economy – enabling Yorkshire and other regions outside London and the South East to fulfil their economic potential – a formal Treasury objective. Again, this is absolutely right.

A Liberal Democrat-run Treasury would deliver a £50bn Regional Rebalancing Programme for capital infrastructure across the UK. Local authorities would have a say in how this is used, but a Yorkshire Parliament would be in an even stronger position, able to take a strategic overview of how this money is spent in the region.

We would deliver a real Northern Powerhouse, matching up to the original ambition of the coalition government, not the pale imitation now being offered by the Conservatives.

'Ambitious and unified' call for real change from new government in manifesto for the North
Unlike the Conservatives and Labour, both of whom the independent experts at the Institute for Fiscal Studies say have not been honest with the public about their tax and spending proposals, Liberal Democrat plans add up.

We’d pay for our policies with specific, modest tax increases and the estimated £50bn ‘Remain Bonus‘ – the boost experts say the Treasury would get from a economy two per cent larger by 2024-25, if we stay in the EU.

In particular we would respond to the crisis in our health and social care services with an increase of 1p in income tax rates, raising £7bn a year extra for these priorities.

Longer term we would put in place a dedicated, progressive Health and Care Tax, offset by other tax reductions. We would set-up a cross-party convention to reach agreement on the long-term sustainable funding of a joined-up system of health and social care.

This election is a real opportunity – to stop Brexit and build a brighter future. Inside the EU our economy is stronger; our ability to tackle inequality and climate change and to invest in our skills and infrastructure is greater.

Yorkshire exports to Europe. Harnessing the green industrial revolution means close co-operation with our neighbours across the North Sea.

The best future for Yorkshire and for the UK is as members of the European Union, and that’s why the Liberal Democrats will continue to fight to stop Brexit and ensure that every part of our country has the opportunity to thrive.