A Tale of Two Yorkshires: Devolution could help region deal with impact of its ageing population

Giving Yorkshire power and money to boost the economy, improve transport and widen education is essential to help the region deal with its ageing population and ensure jobs and young people return to its towns and villages, MPs have said.

As The Yorkshire Post revealed in collaboration with the Centre for Towns that while the region’s population is set to grow six per cent over the next 20 years, the over-65 population will increase by 42 per cent and will be concentrated in towns and villages, MPs from across the political divide called for decision-making and spending power to be devolved to the region.

They stressed that centralised policy-making, which is often focused on city-led growth is not working for towns, villages, rural and coastal areas.

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Transport links must be improved to attract young people away from cities and education should be matched to the needs of local economies to provide young people with an incentive to stay and help employers grow, they said.

The Centre for Towns’ Lisa Nandy said the Greater Manchester devolution deal, held up as a model under Mayor Andy Burnham, has “struggled to function effectively” for surrounding towns like her Wigan constituency, Bolton or Bury.

The Labour MP said it highlights the need for a different model of devolution - and in this region the One Yorkshire deal craved by 18 out of 20 of the region’s council leaders and Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis.

Ms Nandy said the “trickle-out effects” of city-focused devolutions “have not been felt in those surrounding towns” and there is a “general sense” that power has got “stuck” in Manchester with policy “blind to the needs, ambitions, aspirations and assets” of towns.

She said: “I suppose there’s lessons there for Yorkshire - I know Dan Jarvis particularly has been pushing very hard for this One Yorkshire deal, in my view that is absolutely right.

“Apart from anything else because people in Yorkshire feel a very strong sense of Yorkshire identity, and one of the things that we’ve learnt from the Greater Manchester deal is that people don’t see themselves or believe themselves to be part of a political structure, that structure actually doesn’t have legitimacy, it’s a construct that’s been imposed on people.”

Halifax MP Holly Lynch agreed: “That’s what’s attractive about the One Yorkshire approach because if you had city deals and if you had Sheffield city deal and a Leeds city deal, whilst there’s an argument about the economic drivers for that being quite powerful, actually again you run the risk of concentrating all your investment in the North into those cities that are actually already thriving.

“The challenge for us is actually a One Yorkshire deal will take more places with us on that journey than I believe the sort of city approach ever would.”

Conservative MP Kevin Hollinrake, whose constituency contains some of Yorkshire’s most ageing towns, does not back a One Yorkshire deal but said devolution more generally is “absolutely critical”.

The Tory, who led more than 80 MPs and peers in calling for £100bn to be spent on revolutionising transport in the North, said it was critical to “deliver on infrastructure and make a persuasive case for people to stay here.”

Mr Hollinrake also called for the devolution of skills training, stressing employers in his region find it difficult to find people with the right skills, while young people leave due to a lack of education opportunities.

“What is absolutely critical is that we have the power delegated back to these local areas so we can decide on the skills priorities, so the local enterprise partnership and the local authorities can sit in the same room as the schools and colleges and we can say ‘this is what our skills requirement for the next 20 years is going to be’ and they can put a plan together so we can make sure the young people coming out of schools meet the skills needs of the employers in this region.”