Minister needed to ‘bat for England’ at the Cabinet table

Yorkshire’s most senior council executive has launched a stinging attack on the way Whitehall deals with the regions, warning it is “not fit for purpose” in 21st Century Britain.

Tom Riordan, the chief executive of Leeds City Council, warned that Ministers will face a “real backlash” from people living across England if they continue to give more credence to the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London than other parts of the country.

Mr Riordan, a non-political executive who was previously head of regional development agency Yorkshire Forward, called for a radical overhaul of Whitehall and the creation of a Secretary of State for England, who would “bat for England” at the Cabinet table and try to ensure other parts of the UK did not receive unfair advantage.

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There is a growing perception across the North that devolved leaders such as Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and Mayor of London Boris Johnson are proving highly successful at lobbying Government for powers, funding and investment - to the detriment of areas such as Yorkshire.

The Leeds Council supremo suggested the issue dates back further, to the controversial Barnett Formula which sees huge amounts of public funds head north of the border to Scotland.

Mr Riordan conceded his views were “controversial” but said continuing with the status quo at a national level is no longer acceptable for areas such as Yorkshire.

“You have got to look again at the way Whitehall is structured,” Mr Riordan told the conference. “The national level is not fit for purpose any more.

“In the current situation we’ve got, where Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London have such devolved powers, Whitehall should be reconfigured.

“There should be someone round the Cabinet table who sits there and bats for England, in my view. We’ve lacked that, and if we’d had that over the last 20 or 30 years I don’t think we’d be in the situation we are now with the Barnett Formula.

“But nobody does - no permanent secretary when they’re sat round with their colleagues is mandated to speak for England, and it’s a big problem.

“It’s going to get worse, and unless we sort it out I think we will have a real backlash at some point from people.

“I think there should be a Department for England; a Secretary of State for England and they should be in control of these devolved powers.”