Speaking up for Yorkshire

DAVID Cameron should not need reminding about Yorkshire’s importance to the whole country. His family have strong connections with the area, he specifically targeted the region prior to last year’s election and he promised, on his first economy-led speech as Prime Minister, to narrow the North-South divide.

Yet, one year on from the Premier’s landmark speech in Shipley, West Yorkshire, when he promised to breathe new life into the English regions, Mr Cameron’s policies are beginning to look hollow – despite moves that have seen the advanced manufacturing park, near Rotherham, linked with centres of expertise around the country.

This is borne out by the serious concerns of the area’s business leaders who have watched, with bewilderment, as the Government stripped key regional development agencies, like Yorkshire Forward, of their powers before the substitute Local Enterprise Partnerships had been properly constituted.

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It has left the region bereft of a body to co-ordinate, and drive forward, policies on economic growth, sustainable energy and transport at the very time the devolved nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are demanding even greater powers to help offset the coalition’s cuts.

Yet, given that Yorkshire is comparable – geographically, economically and socially – to the Celtic nations, it prompts this newspaper to, once again, question how this region’s best interests are being best served at Westminster when the recovery is so tentative.

Mr Cameron’s answer has been to point to the creation of city ministers – with specific individuals tasked with overseeing the economic development of each area.

Leaving aside the debate about whether each town and city should be studied in isolation when Yorkshire’s policy challenges require a region-wide perspective, it is, perturbing, that such little progress has been made on an approach that was a priority a year ago.

Why is this so? Do the Tories, now they’re in power, care sufficiently about the North – or is their deficit reduction plan proving far more difficult to implement than they had expected?

Either way, Mr Cameron and his colleagues need to remember this. This task, though important, will be even more challenging without the frameworks and policies in place to guide Yorkshire, and the North, out of the slump. It cannot be all left to cash-strapped town halls.