Tom Richmond: A rags-to-riches tale that shames uninspiring Yorkshire leaders

YORKSHIRE'S business leaders could not have been clearer when they threw down the gauntlet to the county's politicians '“ 2017 must be the year of devolution.

Business bosses have called for a devolution resolution. Picture: Chris Etchells

In an open letter published seven months ago yesterday, they implored to Yorkshire to “take control of its destiny to make us greater than we have ever been in our long, proud history. We have great opportunities, as long as we all work together”.

If only.

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Nearly two thirds of the year have passed and the sense of frustration on the part of industrialists and wealth-creators is palpable. They’re genuinely worried that this area is stuck in the slow lane as its transport and business infrastructure creaks. All they see is rival regions forging ahead with metro-mayors, elected 100 days ago, and politicians here arguing amongst themselves.

I’m not surprised. There is no clear political vision, urgency or leadership despite Bradford Council’s leader Susan Hinchcliffe, the new head of West Yorkshire Combined Authority, attempting to forge a ‘coalition of the willing’ to reach such a consensus.

Good luck. Just one look at the WYCA website – combined authorities are the bodies that deliver devolution – could not be more depressing. A picture on the home page of bored people falling asleep at some committee or other, and a diary note that the next meeting, I kid you not, is on “Thursday 29 June 2017, 11am”. Parish councils have more guile and gumption than this body which is responsible for spending £1bn of taxpayers’ money over the next 20 years and where managing director Ben Still is paid £150,000 a year.

The Sheffield City Region Combined Authority is little better. A picture of a bland building and this opening sentence: “Sheffield City Region’s economy operates across a number of local council areas.” It really makes you want to read on. Not. Where’s the welcoming pitch to inward investors?

And these bodies are supposed to be led by the brightest political talent and executives. No wonder private-sector leaders – people who know how to get things done and make money – look enviously at Greater Manchester, where Andy Burnham is already making his mark, and elsewhere.

This ineptitude is all the more galling when set in the context of an interview that Huddersfield Town owner Dean Hoyle gave to The Times to coincide with his side’s Premier League debut (a fairytale 3-0 away win at Crystal Palace on Saturday).

What’s the relevance? His inspirational life story encapsulates the type of vision that Yorkshire should be embracing. A challenging childhood – his mother refused to give her new son up for adoption – saw Heckmondwike-born Hoyle leave school with no qualifications and begin work as a labourer.

“My first boss said ‘Dean, if you sweep the floor for a year, and you do it well, I might think about an apprenticeship’. So I swept it well for a year,” the tycoon 
told football journalist Henry Winter.

It was the same with his business empire. “When I first started Card Factory, we had one shop in Wakefield. At that point Clinton Cards plc had 1,200 shops. Now, 20 years later, Clintons have 300 stores, after administration, and 
we have 900,” said the man who is now worth a reported £285m after starting out with nothing.

And then there is his footballing philosophy – tickets at affordable prices as the Terriers look to become a force for good in a multicultural community which he says is one of the most divided in the UK.

“The best way to break barriers down is in our theatre – football,” he ventures as he welcomes the increased preponderance of Asian fans at games. “Whatever race or religion, people like football. This promotion is a fantastic opportunity to bring people together.” A man who is approaching community cohesion from the bottom up.

I don’t know whether Dean Hoyle is interested in the intricacies of local politics. I suspect not. Such self-made individuals, I sense, wouldn’t have the time – or patience – for glorified talking shops like the combined authorities.

Yet his invigorating outlook is critical if Yorkshire is to win its fair share of funding. This county doesn’t need more politicians or additional tiers of government. It needs better politicians – deal-makers who can get things done and work with others. It needs go-getters – leaders and visionaries whose ‘back story’ is respected by the whole county.

I was beginning to despair for this county’s future – and also the finances of Premier League football – until I began to appreciate Dean Hoyle’s wider contribution.

In an era when footballers are commodities who can accrue more money more in a month than some people earn in a lifetime, Huddersfield Town – a club going nowhere until Hoyle emerged on the scene – has shown how smaller clubs can exceed expectations without compromising their values.

If this county’s politicians can’t follow his example and work ethic, show them the red card – and put Yorkshire in the hands of those business leaders, like Dean Hoyle and like-minded others, who know how to make a difference and change lives for the better.

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