Former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has called the One Yorkshire campaign for devolution as the “right idea” and said that only a substantial deal would be sufficient to allow the region to punch its weight.
Speaking at a major business event in Leeds, Mr Salmond said that the One Yorkshire model was “irresistible” and that the region should press ahead with the plan as a whole as a matter of urgency.
Mr Salmond told the audience at the Leeds Chamber of Commerce annual dinner that the Lord Mayor of London Sadiq Khan “has already got his tanks lined up to counter the army that devolution across England is starting to amas,” and added ”believe me, you cannot have and you will not have even a hope to achieve balanced economic growth throughout this nation unless you do something substantial”.
And Mr Salmond, who served as leader of the Scottish Government for seven years and of the Scottish National Party for 20 years, argued that the only devolution deal agreed in Yorkshire - the troubled Sheffield City Region - was insufficient to meet the needs of redressing capital spending per head inequalities seen in the UK.
Mr Salmond referenced former Prime Minister David Cameron’s now infamous unguarded remarks when he was caught on microphone saying that he “always knew people from Yorkshire hated everyone, we just did not know they hated each other” before saying: “He kind of had a point in the sense that he was looking at 18 proposals for devolution to Yorkshire.
He later added: “ I am delighted that David Cameron’s remark from three years ago is a thing of the past and that people through this organisation, and through their councils and through their MPs, have seen the importance of coming forward with a single proposal, which will be irresistible.”
Citing figures from the IPPR think tank which showed spending per head in capital investment as £5,426 in London versus £581 spending in Yorkshire he said that a region-wide deal was the only hope of overcoming the balance.
“I was very impressed with the Sheffield City Region deal,” he said.
“It was valued at a £1bn over 30 years. That is £30m a year, over these 30 years.
“That is nothing.
“If this graph (the IPPR report) was equalised across the regions of the UK, if everybody had the same capital investment per head it would be worth not £30m a year but £2bn a year in Yorkshire.”
The Scotsman referred to recent attempts from London Mayor Sadiq Khan to look at spending per head on a per journey basis rather per head basis as “ a preemptive strike” designed to “demonstrate that London really was not getting more than its fair share after all”.
Sadiq Khan is no fool, he has already got his tanks lined up to counter the army that devolution across England is starting to amas. But believe me you cannot have you will not have even a hope to achieve balanced economic growth throughout this nation unless you do something substantial.
“My epistle to Yorkshire is that I am delighted that you’re getting your act together.
“For goodness sake, seize the moment, don’t miss the boat, don’t take crumbs from the table, demand what is the proper entitlement of the greatest county in England.”
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post afterwards, Mr Salmond said it was for the people of Yorkshire to decide their destiny but added: “I am just saying that it is very easy to be divided and ruled in these matters.
“It happened to Scotland for a long time.
“Viewed from my eyes as an outsider, the One Yorkshire campaign has the right idea as you would then have an economic unit that can make its case to Government in an irresistible way.
“But you have to focus on what matters. The City Region deals sound like big money but when you start burying away, it is very little and over many years whereas this would be billions.”
When asked about the benefits of running a large-scale devolved power he said: “It took us a while. In 1979 Scotland was evenly divided, by 1997 we had learned our lesson, so obviously the divisions that Cameron detected in Yorkshire three years ago it seems from what I read and understand have been overcome.
“One Yorkshire has about five million folk, I happen to think five million is a good number.”
Currently 18 councils in Yorkshire are lined up in favour of One Yorkshire, with local authorities in Sheffield and Rotherham clinging onto the Sheffield City Region deal despite Barnsley, Doncaster withdrawing their support in favour of One Yorkshire.