Tom Richmond: Scotland's vision shows why we must bridge our devolution divides
Not only will they see the new Â£1.35bn Queensferry Crossing spanning the Firth of Forth – fully funded by the Scottish Government and described as “breathtaking” by the Queen at this week’s official opening – but a nation making the most of its autonomy.
As well as this striking new bridge, Edinburgh’s tram system is up and running, while the Kelpies, two giant equine sculptures made with Yorkshire steel, have helped to regenerate Falkirk and make it the most unlikely of world-class visitor destinations. The Falkirk Wheel canal lift is a 21st century feat of engineering to rival Bingley’s Five Rise locks.
Not only has Scotland made the most of every last penny of EU, Westminster and Holyrood funding at its disposal, but there’s a sense that its leaders recognise that the economy, regeneration, transport and tourism matter and the policy dots are being joined.
Of course the record of the SNP government is a separate issue – and there’s unease here at the extent to which the outdated Barnett Formula continues to favour Scotland over regions like Yorkshire – but such significant progress would not have been made if Holyrood was still at the mercy of Westminster.
And this is the point: though issues pertaining to the economy, transport and visitor numbers matter just as much here, if not more so, the region’s political and business leaders have been disjointed to the extent that the likes of Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, think they can reverse pre-election promises to electrify two of this area’s railway lines because this county has proved incapable of speaking with one voice.
Yet, with EU funding coming to an end, and Government policy clearly favouring those areas that are embracing metro-mayors and working collaboratively, it’s encouraging that the penny is finally dropping with leaders who have been spurred – some might say shamed – into action by a business community who can see how rival regions are making the most of new policy powers.
As such, the symbolism was striking when the leaders and management top brass from 17 of the county’s local authorities – the exceptions being Wakefield, Sheffield and Rotherham – were pictured with the white rose flag of Yorkshire to signal their determination to build metaphorical bridges.
They are recognising that more unites than divides them – the mantra of the late Batley & Spen MP Jo Cox – and that there needs to be an unity of purpose across the county to secure fairer funding.
As Scotland shows, new investment benefits wider geographical areas and Roger Marsh, chair of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership, acknowledged this when he said a devolution deal for Yorkshire is not just in the interests of the millions who live and work here but the “national interest”.
For this, those – like me – who have been crying out for more effective, and streamlined, leadership are in the debt of individuals like Chris Longley, regional chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, who have been putting the concerns of industrialists at the centre of the debate.
Equally Doncaster Chamber’s chief executive Dan Fell made a significant contribution on these pages yesterday when he explained why his town favoured a Yorkshire-wide settlement.
Yet this was no blank cheque. With great clarity, he said that “proponents of a Yorkshire deal need to give assurances that voices from smaller economies will be heard”. It’s a very fair challenge in a county whose industrial diversity is both a strength and weakness.
It’s also worth noting that Chancellor Philip Hammond was far more forthcoming than the past and present Northern Powerhouse Ministers when he visited The Yorkshire Post’s offices on Monday. Not only did he say that the Government would consider a One Yorkshire proposal encompassing the West, North and East Ridings at the very least, but he appeared to understand the public’s desire for faster train services across the Pennines.
There’s also an acceptance that the aforementioned Chris Grayling can’t abdicate responsibility, as he attempted to do, when Transport for the North has no statutory powers.Time will tell whether Mr Hammond was being sincere or buying time – the test will be the commitments that the Chancellor makes at the Tory conference in Manchester and then in the Budget.
In the meantime, it’s imperative that this region’s leaders maintain the momentum and make a case for devolution which is so compelling that it bridges not only the divides in Yorkshire, but the chasm between God’s own county and London.
If not, this county and country will pay the price for a missed opportunity to maximise the economic potential of a region which has always been proud of its ability to out-perform Scotland.