TODAY, Yorkshire stands on the threshold of a historic and far-reaching agreement that could – potentially – pave the way for full devolution.
So much progress has been made between the Government and local leaders in recent months that there is a perceptible spirit of optimism ahead of this afternoon’s Parliamentary debate.
It is in this unifying spirit at the start of a pivotal year that The Yorkshire Post implores each and every MP, and council leader, to evoke the spirit of Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu and start shaping the region’s future.
In an open message, he writes: “Yorkshire has a proud heritage of unity, decisiveness and leadership. Today, our elected leaders have an unprecedented opportunity to repay the trust vested in them by the people and to forge an exciting new future for this great county.
“In doing so they are following in the footsteps of people such as William Wilberforce, Seebohm Rowntree, William Temple and more recently Jo Cox MP, all of whom showed others the possibility of a more hopeful future. We are proud to call ourselves ‘God’s Own County’; the Kingdom of God speaks of justice, unity and love of neighbour.
“In this new dawn, I pray that we will live this out recognising that we have more in common spiritually, culturally, socially, economically, and politically than which divides us. Many peoples, boroughs, councils and counties but One Yorkshire. Therefore, no East, no West, no North, no South but One Yorkshire. Together we are Yorkshire.”
The Archbishop is right. Rarely in recent political history has there been a Yorkshire-specific debate at Westminster that has been so important – it’s no exaggeration to say that this county’s future prosperity and success is on the line.
And, in lieu of recent developments, and a belief that areas of agreement outnumber those where differences remain, this newspaper – on behalf of the whole county – makes a direct appeal to Sheffield Council leader Julie Dore, and her ruling Labour group, to reflect upon the magnanimity now being shown by others, not least Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, and offer some 20:20 vision of her own.
No person, politician, council or city will ever be bigger than Yorkshire and it is to be hoped that Coun Dore chooses not to hold this region, and its 5.3 million residents, to ransom. That’s 5.3 million reasons why her council should look again at its stance.
As a noted centre of industrial, commercial and academic prowess, Sheffield should be leading the One Yorkshire movement and ensuring that the whole region enjoys a more prosperous future.
Six months ago, One Yorkshire – with a single mayor and cabinet for the country’s largest county – was just a concept as a coalition of the willing was formed between 17 councils.
Now, as rival regions make the most of the devolved powers that they now have at their disposal, it has real political momentum – and, crucially, the support of taxpayers – after voters in Barnsley and Doncaster backed this option in last month’s referendum by a landslide margin ahead of the proposed Sheffield City Region deal.
Across the region, the public is more engaged with this issue and wants effective, accountable and transparent leadership. It wants MPs and local councils to lead from the front on this. Industrialists, from the CBI to the Federation of Small Businesses and the TUC, are all pushing for the impasse to end.
And, to his credit, Mr Javid now recognises the changing dynamics of the debate, hence his willingness to consider the possibility of an interim mayor being appointed in South Yorkshire to utilise legislation already passed by Parliament while the rest of the region finalises its own blueprint.
Months ago, the Minister would not even have countenanced this. Now, thanks to the persistence of politicians like Barnsley MP Dan Jarvis, who will open the devolution debate, and the wisdom of unifying figures like the Archbishop of York, the Government is recognising that the whole county could benefit if it gets the right deal.
In short, three possible outcomes remain. Full devolution for the whole of Yorkshire in 2020 at the latest; the West, North and East Ridings joining forces while Sheffield
City Region goes its own way – or the status quo that leaves this region, one proud of its importance and influence, at the back of the queue when it comes to the allocation of Government funds.
Given that the last is a non-starter, and that Rotherham Council is said to be willing to work with Doncaster and Barnsley over the introduction of an interim mayor, it’s imperative that Sheffield does likewise.
Such a move would keep all options open while work begins in earnest to develop the best – and most effective – governance model for the whole county.
This matters. Already Yorkshire is losing out to those parts of the country that have embraced devolution – and the Government has made clear that it will favour those areas that embrace self-governance.
Yet, while Yorkshire’s economic diversity – and how best to advance each area’s specific priorities – is viewed as the biggest barrier to devolution, it also represents the biggest opportunity and political prize.
Unlike other areas, Yorkshire and its brand has global appeal and this region will need to utilise its collective clout if it is prosper after Brexit – issues like skills, social mobility, inward investment and infrastructure do, in fact, transcend artificial local government boundaries and matter to city, coastal, urban and rural locations alike.
As such, 2018 must be the year that Yorkshire’s leaders show that they mean business over devolution because of a genuine belief that the county’s best days are still to come – if they all pull together for the greater good.