Yorkshire Devolution : Why We Want It

Victoria Square : Hull

In this article Stewart Arnold puts forward the case for Yorkshire devolution.

Yorkshire has a sense of identity going back over 1000 years. It has an identifiable culture and a strong sense of community which, amongst all English regions, gives it a distinctive personality.

The highly centralised government in England has not worked in Yorkshire’s favour over the years. The lion’s share of public spending gravitates towards London and the South East leaving Yorkshire and some of the other regions of England as the poor relations. The Barnett Formula and the existence of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish devolved administrations protects, to some extent, the public sector budgets of those countries whilst leaving those of Yorkshire and some of the other English regions even more exposed.

As a result of this centralisation, Yorkshire has tended to lose out in terms of public sector investment. Key spending decisions are made in either Westminster or Whitehall and most capital projects are micro-managed from Whitehall. Many Yorkshire projects simply never get approved in the first place. Failure to invest in Yorkshire has meant that the Yorkshire economy has under-performed for many years. Our transport infrastructure is creaking and unless urgent action is taken on this and on many other issues now and not at some future time when it might better suit the government, then Yorkshire will fall even further behind. We estimate that, in order to bridge the North/South divide, the shortfall on public sector capital spending in Yorkshire will need to be made good at the rate of £10bn per year for the next 10 years, in other words around £100bn over the next 10 years. This should do no more than bring us into line with London.

Unlike in London, there is no regional administration in Yorkshire. Yorkshire Forward was the Regional Development Agency for Yorkshire & the Humber but this is now no more so, in effect, Yorkshire has no representation at the regional level. There is no regional transport strategy, no regional energy strategy, no regional industrial and economic strategy and Yorkshire had no voice in the Brexit discussions; in fact, it is probably fair to say that there is no regional strategy at all. There is no one voice to speak out for Yorkshire.

Current devolution proposals involving city regions are restricted to limited powers over specific topics and the sums involved are relatively tiny. This will do no more than scratch the surface. They will not address the imbalance at all. In addition, as many of the issues that need to be tackled cover the region as a whole, these will be outside the scope of individual city regions as they do not have the scope, scale or resources to address these problems. Add to this the continuing financial pressures on council budgets and any proposals coming out of the long-awaited Levelling Up White Paper will have to be far reaching, which is unlikely.

In the opinion of many (and here both Scotland and Wales provide excellent case studies), it is apparent that many issues, such as policing, health, education, transport and industrial and economic policy, would be better dealt with at the regional level. A regional administration would be much more logical than the current proposals of combined authorities, city regions, quangos, councils etc. but the government refuses to see this. The current devolution proposals have not been subject to proper public consultation or any kind of democratic endorsement. In fact, the idea of metro mayors was rejected by several cities in the referendums of 2012. Current devolution proposals have done nothing to improve democracy and public accountability. The current electoral system at both national and local level is biased and unrepresentative and the current devolution proposals could make it even worse.

The success of the Grand Depart of the Tour de France in Yorkshire in 2014 and the success of individuals whether it be in sport, theatre, film, business and so on, shows what is possible in Yorkshire. But there is more. With a diverse economy, landscape and a population of five million people there is enormous potential waiting to be unleashed.

Our view is that the people of Yorkshire must have a greater say in how Yorkshire is governed. We need a directly elected Parliament for the whole of Yorkshire.  A parliament that can set the right democratic priorities for Yorkshire and provide a stronger voice for the region in Britain, in Europe and throughout the wider world, and unleash the tremendous potential that exists here.

One thought on “Yorkshire Devolution : Why We Want It

  1. While we at Democratic Yorkshire may disagree with him at times, Stewart Arnold is absolutely right when he says that the people of Yorkshire must have a greater say in how Yorkshire is governed. We need a directly elected Parliament for the whole of Yorkshire. A parliament that can set the right democratic priorities for Yorkshire and provide a stronger voice for the region in Britain, in Europe and throughout the wider world, and unleash the tremendous potential that exists here.

    He is also right; when he points out that the current devolution proposals have done nothing to improve democracy and public accountability. The current electoral system at both national and local level is biased and unrepresentative and the current devolution proposals could make it even worse.

    For us, it is up to a Citizen-led Constitutional Convention, not the Government, not Council Leaders or with utmost respect, up to activists, however, prominent such as Stewart or members of the Yorkshire Party to decide upon Yorkshires democratic future, but the people.

    As close allies with both Stewart and the Yorkshire Party we look forward to working this out together over the coming months and years.

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