YP Comment: Devolution and three key tests. Labour sets out plan for North

TWO and a half years after George Osborne set out his vision for a Northern Powerhouse, Labour will unveil its alternative plan today when Jon Trickett, the Shadow Cabinet Minister and Hemsworth MP, reveals his blueprint.
Will a directly-elected Yorkshire mayor help or hinder cities like Leeds?Will a directly-elected Yorkshire mayor help or hinder cities like Leeds?
Will a directly-elected Yorkshire mayor help or hinder cities like Leeds?

Yet, while the Government’s approach does depend on private sector investment, the Opposition’s plan is more structural and more interventionist – a Bank of the North and a Council of the North working in tandem with a Yorkshire-wide devolution body.

Time will tell whether any of Mr Trickett’s ideas come to pass. Policy formulation is not Jeremy Corbyn’s strength, though there does appear to be growing pressure for this county to reach a consensus with plans for an elected mayor in South Yorkshire now doomed.

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However, with Mr Trickett’s speech coming 24 hours after the House of Lords debated the issue when the Archbishop of York called for “Cabinet-level figures to champion the North”, it’s important that any plan fulfils three requirements.

First, any new governance structure must have a set of clearly-defined priorities. Transparency and public accountability are key.

Second, taxpayers expect effective leadership – and not a costly additional tier of bureaucracy – following the expansion of the local government quangocracy. There can’t, for example, be a repeat of the profligacy when marketing agency Leeds and Partners was in existence.

Third, any solution must command the confidence of residents if the new structure is to succeed. The issue with directly-elected mayors is that the concept was rejected by voters at the ballot box before the aforementioned Mr Osborne tried to impose them on city-regions.

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There’s still much to do before these objectives are achieved, though Mr Trickett’s intervention does provide some timely impetus.

Turning the tide

IF fracking is not the answer to Britain’s energy crisis, either on environmental or economic grounds, alternative sources of power will need to be procured – the country is too reliant on imports after successive governments neglected the need to formulate a long-term plan.

Yet, given Britain is an island nation rightly proud of its seafaring past, it’s surprising that the potential of tidal power is only now being harnessed after former energy minister Charles Hendry conducted a review. Though it’s too early to see whether this will be feasible, or practical, for the Humber estuary, Mr Hendry made two profound points after his study endorsed plans to create a pioneering tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay at a cost of £1.3bn.

First, a practical Mr Hendry suggested the benefits of this scheme be studied closely before further projects are given the green light. He was clearly mindful of the decision to approve onshore wind farms prior to their effectiveness being appraised – even more pertinent with the current cold snap coinciding with more benign weather.

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Second, the former Minister says a longer-term view needs to be applied to any cost-benefit analysis. He believes this could be the most financially efficient source of power if the cost of subsidies is spread over 120 years – the expected lifetime of any tidal barrage.

This pragmatism is key to turning the tide when it comes to energy policy. Britain can’t afford any more expensive follies like those wind turbines which don’t function at times of peak demand. Equally doing nothing is not an option if the nation’s lights are to continue burning.

Switching off

IT’S not just the public who are bemused by MPs and councillors obsessing with mobile phones during meetings. When Labour minister Clare Short’s phone went off during a Privy Council meeting, the Queen observed: “Do answer it, dear. It might be somebody important.”

It was the same after the last Autumn Statement – the abiding memory of Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s response was the photograph of Labour backbenchers tweeting furiously, or answering emails, rather than actually affording some courtesy to their colleague.

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This explains the reaction to councillors being asked to refrain from using their phones at this week’s meeting of Leeds Council. Though some said it was important that they communicated with the public, this habit is, in fact, disrespectful to other speakers at a time when residents want politicians to be working together for the greater good. And that will only happen with better lines of communication.