The Yorkshire Post Says: Move aside, narrow-minded MPs - top business leaders backing devolution is monumental

THE fact that 150 top business leaders from Sheffield and South Yorkshire have put their names to an open letter on the future of devolution is very significant in itself and should be welcomed.

Devolution in Sheffield

Innovators and investors from a diverse range of enterprises, it’s no mean achievement for so many firms to not only co-ordinate themselves in this way but also to make a pragmatic argument.

Its publication also marks a tipping point in Yorkshire’s seemingly intractable devolution debate. As rival regions forge ahead and start shaping their future, private-sector leaders are becoming increasingly perturbed by the political impasse here and are now speaking out in ever greater numbers.

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As The Yorkshire Post has repeatedly stated, devolution can’t be left to the minority of politicians in key positions who are still intent on putting parochialism and party politics before the greater good.

They need to be superseded by their more visionary counterparts who can see the bigger picture and back collaboration. Any deal, or structure, also needs to be underpinned by the private sector – the people who know how to create jobs and prosperity.

As such, the context to today’s letter is important. The signatories, including many individuals whose success and stature merits the utmost respect, fear for the fragmentation of South

Yorkshire as an economic entity if Barnsley and Doncaster join forces with councils in the West, North and East Ridings – the so-called One Yorkshire proposal.

It’s a genuine concern, though they’re careful not to totally rule out their backing for a countywide plan if this region’s leaders can prove to the Government that such an approach is in the best interests of all.

In some respects, Yorkshire’s diverse economy – so often a source of strength – is its biggest weakness because the needs of Sheffield and South Yorkshire’s manufacturers do not always correlate with the priorities of the tech and legal sector in Leeds, or Hull and the Humber’s green energy revolution, or rural North Yorkshire where farming and tourism are paramount.

Yet it shouldn’t prevent business leaders, and others, from seeing whether there’s sufficient common ground to come up with a leadership and governance structure that can be applied to the whole of Yorkshire. After all, many of the key issues – skills, transport and digital technology to name three – transcend local council boundaries. For example, access to Hull’s ports is just as important to exporters in the West Riding as it is to companies already located in the UK’s City of Culture.

Time, though, is running out. Until Yorkshire gets its collective act together, England’s largest – and most important – county risks finding itself playing second fiddle to those areas that have made a leap of faith on metro-mayors because of the funding opportunities that exist.

Given this, today’s letter could not be more timely, or opportune, if it leads to more industrialists and go-getters becoming involved in a debate which is fundamental to this region’s future, and which has been left in the hands of narrow-minded politicians for far too long now.