Yorkshire : Better Together

This article was provided by Richard Honnoraty.

Tranquil Yorkshire

We have been talking about devolution for Yorkshire now for some years but, whilst devolution, of sorts, has been on the agenda for a while, Yorkshire still has no focal point; no voice; and no representation.

As we approach Yorkshire Day perhaps now might be a good time to explore what the future holds for Yorkshire. Quite frankly, it looks like a pretty mixed bag. The administration of Yorkshire is as fragmented as ever. The UK is run by an authoritarian government which has recently been preoccupied by one of the worst natural disasters that the UK, and the rest of world, has faced in years. It appears that we may be coming out of the pandemic so the government may have the opportunity to focus more on its main initiatives. A cornerstone of these is its, so called, levelling up agenda. Whilst the government makes a lot of the right noises about levelling up, whereby disadvantaged regions are given the means to catch up with more successful parts of the country, it is not clear that the proposed actions will have the desired effects.

The idea of further devolution has been quietly dropped so metro mayors with limited powers and even more limited funding looks like the order of the day. What is abundantly clear is that any devolution funding will most certainly not make up for local funding lost as a result of the years of austerity. In many respects it is a pity that the government’s love of all things American does not extend to the idea of states.

Devolution and/or autonomy must always be about having the ability to deliver the required benefits. Within the UK, Scotland and Wales, to date, have been limited success stories. Yorkshire would have to do better than that.

The national dysfunctional government is faced with a national dysfunctional opposition, so not a huge hope for positive change there.

One question that the Big Yorkshire Conversation Survey did not ask was: “What do you understand by Yorkshire?”. I wonder what sort of answers we would have got; the largest county in England; the Yorkshire and Humber Region; the historic county of Yorkshire; etc. The truth of the matter is that the first and last examples are correct. There is only one Yorkshire and that is the largest county in England. I am not convinced that all the people who claim to represent Yorkshire understand this. I am sure the vast majority do.

There are many organisations and bodies that claim to represent Yorkshire. Most of these would probably say that the governance of the county is outside their remit, though they may have an observer’s interest. There is no group that immediately comes to mind as the authoritative place you would go to for all things Yorkshire and this includes those that have a deep interest in the governance of the county. The most well known organisation is probably Welcome to Yorkshire so the nearest thing we have to a spokesperson could well be James Mason, the Chief Executive of that organisation.

There is no one organisation or group that commands sufficient authority to lead the county.

This does not mean that any of these organisations or groupings are not successful in their own terms, but no one group has the standing or wherewithal to take the county towards effective devolution. Without focus, structure, effective planning and adequate resources, any group promoting Yorkshire devolution or autonomy has little, if any, chance of success. Our own group is probably typical of those supporting effective devolution. Nobody should question our commitment, but capacity and capability are different matters altogether. Collaboration could well be the key and there have been some successes here with, for example, the Campaign for a Yorkshire Parliament and One Yorkshire but these have been short lived. It is probably fair to say that when the concept of “One Yorkshire” had the support of 18 councils, it stood some chance of success, but since then that idea has lost momentum.

So, is the idea of effective Yorkshire devolution or autonomy dead? Not necessarily, but it is going to take a great deal of effort to bring people on board. An understanding of what Yorkshire actually is might provide more focus for future campaigns. There is also potentially some value in building a political movement based around Yorkshire values as well as regional government for the county. Whether or not the Yorkshire Conversation will provide a more structured and focused way forward remains to be seen.

What is clear is that we must all invest in the future of Yorkshire.

Some of the main strengths of Yorkshire are its people, geography, diversity and dynamism. With these strengths, plus many others, the future should be bright. It is up to all of us to make it brighter.

Yorkshire; better together!

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