Tom Richmond: Devolution is an opportunity Yorkshire can't afford to miss

IT'S a significant step forward that so many business leaders and organisations have come out so strongly in favour of the One Yorkshire devolution deal that would see the West, North Ridings join forces at the very least and attempt to turn the White Rose County into a genuine '˜Northern Powerhouse'.

Tom Richmond with the Leeds skyline and the white rose of Yorkshire.
Tom Richmond with the Leeds skyline and the white rose of Yorkshire.

I’ve long argued on these pages that private-sector involvement and intervention was going to be key to ending the protracted political deadlock which has led to an impasse while rival regions implement new decision-making powers. Someone has listened (at last).

However, it’s also important that any settlement is not a behind-closed-doors stitch-up between posturing politicians looking to protect their own perks and privileges. Quite the opposite. If it is to command public support – and win over Whitehall Ministers who only want localism on their terms – attention needs to be given to these issues.

First Yorkshire, the most plain-speaking and straight-talking county of all, does not want more politicians. It wants better politicians and more effective leadership – and there will need to be total clarity over the devolved body’s brief and role of any metro-mayor.

Second, there needs to be public accountability. Yorkshire voted against directly-elected mayors in 2012 and taxpayers do still need to be convinced about the benefits of a new organisation. It shouldn’t just be elected politicians who have the right to question officials – what about open Q&A sessions for residents at the very least?

Third, there needs to be a root-and-branch review of all public-sector roles in which the postholder earns in excess of, say, £75,000. The public purse simply can’t afford duplication of effort. It means less money being spent on infrastructure investment and frontline services.

I know this won’t make me popular with council chiefs and leaders in this region who already regard my interventions as a nuisance and wish that I took a vow of silence on the issue of devolution.

But they miss the point. They need to consider the issue from the public’s perspective rather than their own. If they did, they might be able to seal a devolution deal that commands the confidence of the most important constituency of all – the people of Yorkshire. Good luck.

TALKING of devolution and fears over local government excess, my column in The Yorkshire Post on Tuesday revealed that most parish councils had more guile and gumption than the West Yorkshire Combined Authority which is responsible for spending £1bn over 20 years on a number of issues, including transport and economic development.

I noted the home page of its website include a picture of attendees at a meeting nodding off and a link to a forthcoming meeting on “Thursday 29 June, 2017”. By the end of the day, both had been removed – presumably to save the blushes of £150,000-a-year MD Ben Still.

Yet it’s not just Mr Still who appears to have been asleep on the job. His senior management team includes Angela Taylor (director of resources); Rob Norrey (director of policy); Dave Pearson (director of transport services); Sue Cooke (executive head of economic services) and Melanie Corcoran (director of delivery).

That appears to be a lot of high-earners funded by the taxpayer. If none of them keep their website remotely up to date, to explain the purpose of their publicly-funded organisation, it doesn’t inspire confidence in their competence.

All the more reason why Yorkshire’s devolution settlement must be streamlined with clear lines of accountability and responsibility.

I’LL give West Yorkshire Police the benefit of the doubt – for now – over plans to sell three of its police stations and four other buildings after revealing that they’re rarely used by officers. I hope this is not the precursor to the opening times at remaining stations being scaled back before they, too, are sold off.

It’s said the proceeds from these asset disposals will be re-invested in front-line officers. I remain to be convinced, which is why crime commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson should publish the specifics. After all, it is his job is to represent law-abiding citizens.

WHY the obsession with Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is now being tipped by many to be the next leader of the Tory party?

With the greatest of respect to the impeccably polite MP dubbed the “Honourable Member for the early 20th century” by the columnist Quentin Letts for his posh mannerisms, he’s a humble backbencher with no experience of Ministerial office.

Given that Mr Rees-Mogg, whose father William edited The Times, has been an MP since 2010, is it because the whips don’t think he’s up to the job or is he worried a tricky policy brief, like health, might find him out?

NOT only is Adam Peaty a swimming superstar like no other, but he – and his coach Mel Marshall – are recovering from their golden success at last month’s World Championships by undertaking 50 hours of sporting pursuits in Zambia to raise funds for under-privileged children in the African country as part of their commitment to the Perfect Day Foundation.Such humanity couldn’t be more heartening and shows, once again, the value of role models.

FINALLY what does it say about the unhappy state of world affairs when headline news is the rambling President of the United States finally managing to condemn racism as “evil”? This shouldn’t have been open to question.