Fresh from his General Election triumph, Boris Johnson ushered in 2020 by offering the British people a tantalising vision of a “new chapter in the history of our country” after three years where its politics have been marred by Brexit deadlock.
And in Yorkshire, where the transformation from red to blue in a host of Labour strongholds helped gift the Prime Minister his majority, expectations will be high that some of the region’s most intractable issues will finally be addressed as a new decade gets underway.
Much of this anticipation is based on the PM’s own words in the run-up to the General Election, a period which saw him promise greater devolution to northern England, improved transport links – including high speed rail linking the region’s big cities – and better prospects for left-behind towns.
Though Brexit will be the immediate priority at Westminster in the first weeks of 2020, there are now few obstacles to getting Mr Johnson’s Withdrawal Bill passed by Parliament before the January 31 deadline.
Negotiations with Brussels over the UK’s future relationship with the European Union will continue in the background, but in the meantime the Conservative government will be expected to make progress on its domestic priorities and the PM’s stated commitment to levelling up the country.
His comfortable majority – and Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to stand down in the aftermath of General Election – means Labour will spend the early weeks of 2020 looking inward as it seeks to choose a successor who can improve its prospects.
Leeds North East MP Fabian Hamilton said: “With the Tories having a comfortable majority in Parliament, I fear that Boris Johnson will be able to shun environmental protections and workers’ rights on a scale never seen before in Britain. Make no mistake, this is a hard-right Tory government that will not treat the climate emergency with the seriousness it deserves at a time of unprecedented danger to our planet’s survival.”
For leaders in Yorkshire, the transfer of powers and funding as part of a devolution deal will be at the top of their wish-list.
A deal to give West Yorkshire a greater say over its own affairs was close to being signed prior to the election being called, and will likely be finalised soon.
Similar ‘city region’ deals for North and East Yorkshire could well make progress once this initial hurdle has been cleared, while Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis will hope for a breakthrough on his area’s £30m-a-year deal after months of impasse with local leaders.
This year will also provide some news – not all of it necessarily good – about the future of several high-profile transport schemes in Yorkshire.
The £39bn Northern Powerhouse Rail scheme connecting the North’s big cities is expected to feature in the February budget, while the Oakervee review into the future of the HS2 will be published along with the Williams review into the future of the wider rail industry.
Amid reports that the Leeds section of HS2 will be scrapped to save money, Alex Stafford, the newly-elected Tory MP for Rother Valley, promised to fight the end the high speed rail scheme. “We’re going to have a fight all the way to make sure if it goes through, it’s better and improved and not affecting Rother Valley,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
Campaigners in North Yorkshire will find out if the A64 connecting Leeds to the coast will be included in a funding scheme so it can become a dual carriageway, and combined authorities will learn if they have successfully bid for hundreds of millions of pounds from the Transforming Cities Fund.
Outside Yorkshire’s big cities, civic leaders will be calling on the Government to do more for the towns that voted Conservative last month, many suffering with struggling high streets and hidden poverty and isolation.
The Rural Commission will sit in the next 12 months with the aim of addressing core issues for rural communities such as the future of post-Brexit farming and small rural schools.
In North Yorkshire, England’s largest county, a solution to fund education provision will be sought amid pressures caused by large numbers of rural schools and soaring demand on the high needs budget.
The pressing need for a funding solution and blueprint for social care will be highlighted, as demand escalates along with pressures on the NHS and the sustainability of market provision in jeopardy.
Mike Padgham, the Yorkshire chairman of The Independent Care Group, says the Government has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tackle the social care crisis. He said: “Boris Johnson promised to sort out social care when he first took office and repeated that pledge ahead of the General Election. Now he has that opportunity to be bold over social care, give it a real shake-up and produce something we can all be proud of for generations to come.”
The eyes of the world will be on Washington to see if Donald Trump will be re-elected as US President, but on the domestic front there will be elections for most of the country’s metro mayors and crime commissioners as well as local council polls.
Henri Murison, Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said: “2019 will be remembered for its unprecedented political turbulence and uncertainty, however, since the departure of Theresa May as PM, the Northern Powerhouse has been firmly back on the agenda, with rebalancing the British economy a theme taken up by both main parties in the last election.
“In 2020, this attention must be translated into action – education and skills, industrial policy, transport infrastructure and devolution need to be top priorities for the government.
“The elections for Metro Mayors in Liverpool across to the Tees Valley will again put devolution back in the spotlight, with Andy Burnham for instance the northern politician with the largest direct individual mandate, deserving with his colleagues to be taken seriously.
“Each of them, if re-elected, should be taking on from government the greater power and responsibilities needed to address the challenges faced by both cities and surrounding towns, neither of which can be addressed successfully in isolation from each other or the wider North’s challenges.”