Despite the best efforts of council leaders in South Yorkshire, we now know that the Sheffield City Region deal is not going to happen. This does not mean we should give up on devolving power to our region altogether. Instead, we should seize this opportunity to be more ambitious.
Because for too long, Yorkshire has been neglected by national government. Decisions that are critical to our future have been taken in London with little regard for the communities they affect. The devolution of power gives us the opportunity to change this.
Just last month, Chris Grayling wrote in The Yorkshire Post about how it was not his responsibility to invest in Yorkshire’s railways. This came a few weeks after he unilaterally cancelled electrification projects planned for some of the busiest train routes in the country. You only have to take the train from Barnsley to Sheffield or Leeds to see how poorly funded our transport infrastructure is.
These critical decisions that impact upon us in Yorkshire, should be made in Yorkshire. My message to Chris Grayling, Sajid Javid and their cabinet colleagues in government is this: we will work with you, but give us the resources and we will do it better.
The referendum decision to leave the European Union brings the debate about political decision making and accountability into sharp focus. For me, it is a game changer – because in a post-Brexit world, devolution gives Yorkshire the chance to take greater control over our future direction as a county. We need to be ambitious about what we can achieve, and eager to get the tools to make it happen.
The reality is that we have fallen behind other parts of the country. The newly elected Mayors of Manchester, Liverpool, and the West Midlands are already establishing themselves as significant players in our national debate and the Mayor of London has long been a figure of national and international importance. We do not have a Yorkshire Mayor fighting our corner and we are losing out as a result. We need to put that right and we need to do it now.
I believe that a One Yorkshire deal – which encompasses the 5.4 million people who live in our region – is the right way forward. We need to think bigger than city regions if we are going to rival the influence of areas such as Greater Manchester or the West Midlands. By working together across Yorkshire, we will be best placed to cooperate with and compete with the other devolved areas.
The potential benefits of such a deal are huge and will unlock £3 billion in new investment. The West Yorkshire Combined Authority has estimated that devolving power to Yorkshire, coupled with an ambitious economic agenda, could mean – amongst other benefits, that within ten years everyone in our region is better off by £600 a year.
And whilst the detail of any deal would have to be carefully hammered out, my guiding principle is this: the more financial and regulatory power we can devolve to Yorkshire the better.
Devolution is about much more than just investment in infrastructure. It’s about attracting new investment to develop and grow our regional economy and using new planning powers to regenerate our cities and towns. It’s about accessing additional funding for skills, training and health, to care for and develop our people, and building new affordable housing for the younger generation. It’s also about preserving our unique culture, heritage and creative offer as well as protecting our stunning countryside. Above all, it’s about harnessing our collective talent, energy and influence as one united Yorkshire.
I know that we don’t like to shout about it, but Yorkshire is an iconic global brand, revered around the world. Tourism is incredibly important to our economy and events like the Tour de Yorkshire bring us international recognition. If we all worked together I have no doubt that collectively we would punch well above our weight. And I know from talking to my constituents in Barnsley and to people across our region that they instinctively identify with Yorkshire much more than they do with their nearest big city.
I strongly believe that reenergising our sense of Yorkshire pride and purpose could help re-engage people with politics and make them feel they have a real stake in our county once again. With the right political will a bold and ambitious deal for Yorkshire is achievable. Securing agreement among 20 local authorities, of different political parties, will be challenging but it is not insurmountable. Especially as the vast majority of those councils from across the county, have now signed up to the principle of a One Yorkshire deal.
It will require real leadership to draw together an area as large and diverse as ours, but I believe that it is in our best interests to pursue this deal and for politicians across the region to show leadership and work co-operatively with each other to bridge the political divide. We need a deal that brings together local authorities, Trade Unions and the business community, and all those who care about our county – united in a common aim of achieving the very best for the people of Yorkshire.
It is clear that there is a great deal of positivity about a One Yorkshire devolution deal. Our region has a timeless spirit and limitless potential. By working together, we can harness that potential to its fullest extent. It’s time for Yorkshire to be united and to take control of its future.
This article was first published in The Yorkshire Post on 19 September 2017