Rachel Reeves: New Mayor is a first step on way to One Yorkshire

THE election of Dan Jarvis as the first Mayor for the Sheffield City Region is fantastic news for South Yorkshire.

Dan Jarvis is the man to unite Yorkshire.

He is a talented leader who will work tirelessly to unite all the different initiatives to create more jobs, attract investment and help grow a diverse and thriving economy.

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Yorkshire is a unique place. We are rightly proud of our culture and identity. The Yorkshire “brand” is known right across the world.

But we should be more ambitious and set the bar high when it comes to what we want to achieve for the region and everyone who lives and works here.

Dan’s election as the Mayor of the Sheffield City Region was a landmark moment. But let’s not stop here. The election of the new Mayor should be a stepping stone to securing greater powers for the whole of Yorkshire.

As both Dan and The Yorkshire Post have strongly argued, we need more devolution for the whole county in the form of the “One Yorkshire” proposal.

The idea already has the backing of 18 of the county’s 20 local authorities and it is one that we should work with the new Mayor to deliver.

I believe wider devolution would give us the strongest possible voice and help us close the North-South divide and break down the dominance of London and the South East.

A county-wide devolution deal already has overwhelming public support. In a community poll held by Doncaster and Barnsley councils in December, 85 per cent of those who voted said they would rather be part of a Yorkshire deal as against just a Sheffield City Region one.

A single mayor for the whole region would help unlock greater investment, build confidence and us help fight for the best possible deal for Yorkshire when it came to securing Government funds and private investment.

But I would like to see the powers of the Sheffield City Region Mayor extended beyond transport issues to cover other areas like housing and infrastructure funding.

There has never been a 
more important time to rebalance our economy away from London and the South.

We are already losing ground to areas that have elected Metro Mayors when it comes to central Government funding.

And, we saw last week the risks that Yorkshire faces from London with the news of the proposed merger of Asda and Sainsbury’s.

Asda has long been part of the economic and civic infrastructure of Leeds.

Yet, despite the promises of the two companies that the Leeds HQ will remain after the merger, my fear is that all the power and decision-making 
will reside in London.

The proposed merger is a clear case of why we need strong regional government to stand up for the best interests of the people of Leeds and across the county.

It is possible that the Competitions and Markets Authority might compel the merged company to sell off some of its stores and assets. That could put jobs at risk in our region and is an obvious reason why we need a powerful voice 
to oppose any closures in Yorkshire.

We need more devolved powers to shape our own destiny so that decisions that affect Yorkshire are taken in Yorkshire – not 200 miles away in Westminster and Whitehall.

I believe Yorkshire Forward, the regional development 
agency for Yorkshire and the Humber until 2012, worked 
well when it came to encouraging private and public investment 
in education, skills, infrastructure and the environment.

I hope that the One Yorkshire plan could eventually pave the way for similar success under the stewardship of a directly-elected mayor for Yorkshire to be in place by 2020.

With the Government’s support, I am sure the new structure could lay the groundwork to nurture a much larger, more innovative and diverse economy to the benefit 
of all the 5.3 million people who live in Yorkshire.

Our sense of community and our proud sense of identity is something we should use to 
drive forward change and 
make One Yorkshire a reality.

After receiving the One Yorkshire blueprint, the Government said it would welcome discussions on 
any widely supported proposal for a greater Yorkshire devolution deal.

The uncertainty over what could happen as a result of the Asda and Sainsbury’s merger has shown us why we need the greatest possible influence over what happens in Yorkshire.

That is why we need to seize the opportunity and build on Dan Jarvis’s victory to get greater devolved powers for all of Yorkshire. I will be working with the new Mayor and our council leaders to keep the pressure up to make One Yorkshire a reality.

As the Confederation of 
British Industry put it, wider devolution would be “good for jobs, good for growth”. There is no doubt about that.

Yorkshire is a great county with a great heritage. But it could be even better with an even stronger and more prosperous economy. The Government needs to listen to the people of Yorkshire and give us the powers that we want and need.

Rachel Reeves is the Labour MP for Leeds West. She is chair of Parliament’s Business Select Committee and writes a monthly column for The Yorkshire Post.