John Grogan: 'I've not given up on the dream of One Yorkshire'

With city region devolution deals signed in West and South Yorkshire and other plans under discussion, Geraldine Scott speaks to former MP John Grogan on why, despite appearances, the One Yorkshire dream is not yet dead.

Former Keighley MP John Grogan. Photo: JPI Media

As parts of Yorkshire sign up to devolution deals, transferring sought-after powers away from Whitehall and into the hands of elected metro mayors, it may seem like the dream of a One Yorkshire agreement, bringing all corners of the region under one roof, is dead.

But for former Keighley MP John Grogan, one of the first proponents of a One Yorkshire deal, it is not time to give up yet - but the idea was on hold.

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“I‘ll always remember election night when I lost and [Bradford] council leader Susan Hinchcliffe was there at Shipley, I can remember one of the conversations I had, between the declaration and just getting out of the building, saying to Susan ‘you’re going to have to sign up now to West Yorkshire’ because clearly the die was cast at that point,” he said.

Despite campaigning for One Yorkshire, and getting support from the majority of local leaders across the region, Mr Grogan admitted a Tory majority had stopped the idea in its tracks.

“Clearly having met minsters and particularly the Minister for the Northern Powerhouse [then Jake Berry], he was never really very keen. He’s gone now obviously, but it was clear that we had a Conservative government with a big majority which for whatever reason had set itself against a One Yorkshire arrangement,” he said.

Just a few weeks earlier Mr Grogan had organised a reception in Parliament with the Archbishop of York, and had convinced all the political parties except the Conservatives to put a commitment to One Yorkshire in their manifestos.

But he said once the election result was clear “it was a question of moving on” - for now.

He said: “I think that was very quickly felt by council leaders across Yorkshire of all persuasions. So I wasn’t surprised then when the negotiations quickened in the new year and again I’m glad partly for the reason that sometimes you’ve got to move on in politics and I’m glad that the deal was done when it was done just before the virus crisis.

“But in terms of what the leaders got, in terms of One Yorkshire it’s not much but in the agreement is £200,000, which the Government is giving to the Yorkshire Leaders Board, and I quote, ‘for practical steps for further collaboration on a Yorkshire wide basis’. And so it’ll be interesting to see what happens in North Yorkshire and York and East Yorkshire and Hull.

“But I think for those who believe in a Yorkshire identity and the power of Yorkshire, it will be interesting now to see whether the Yorkshire Leaders Board can make something of that.

“The Government talked about them cooperating on climate change issues, post Brexit, tourism. In a way, it’s up to the leaders board - if they can get cooperation it will depend a lot on the personalities of any new mayors as well. But that Yorkshire Leaders Board for me could stop or could mitigate against the balkanisation I always feared.

It is this leaders board which keeps the flame alight, Mr Grogan said, as well as guarding against Yorkshire mayors being at each other’s throats.

He said: “If we end up having four mayors, does that mean every time there’s a foreign investment or a government event or something like Channel Four in the future, do all four compete for it?

“So I see the Yorkshire Leaders Board as being crucial in the future and the One Yorkshire campaign, we’ve got a bit of money in the bank and I think later in the year we’ll probably hold some sort of event to explore what could be the role of the Yorkshire Leaders Board in the future.”

Mr Grogan said there had always been tensions on both sides of the political sphere over the idea - a common assumption was the Government would never back the plans due to the belief it would deliver a powerful Labour mayor.

But with sweeping wins for the Tories in December this may not have been the case, and Mr Grogan said some in Labour had been equally as nervous

“In both major parties, there were some, definitely government figures, thinking well, why on earth do we want to risk this?

“I think for both parties, there was the fear that it was a election that couldn’t be confidently predicted.

“But I am a great believer in democratic competition being a good thing, even if you do lose from time to time, it would have been a contest which I think would have gripped the country if you’d have had a Yorkshire wide contest. And I think that the uncertainty is a good thing in democracy.”

And he has not given up on the prospect yet.

Mr Grogan said the benefits of One Yorkshire were as strong today as ever.

He said: “Yorkshire is the brand and the identity which is recognised not just within the county, but importantly, it’s recognised internationally as well.

“And we’re big as Scotland in terms of population. If there had been a mayor of Yorkshire with a combined authority for Yorkshire as a whole, we would, undoubtedly been up there competing with London, the number two the country. The Yorkshire mayor for be vying with Sadiq Khan for attention.”

He added: “The diversity of the county and the fact that you could bring together seaside towns with big cities and rural areas was the attraction really.”

He said: “I think the crucial thing is for the One Yorkshire dream is get the Yorkshire Leaders Board, which is already up and running, but now it has some Government cash and recognition behind it, to increase its status, develop and widen its remit and also crucially try and ensure that next year when you get at least one more mayor elected, possibly others in the subsequent years, that you do get a way of working together rather than all competing with each other and then who knows?

“The next general election is nearly five years away. It will be interesting to see what the different parties put in their manifestos. So no, I don’t think it’s gone forever, but obviously, for this Parliament, certainly.”