Yorkshire Day: where’s the devolution?

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The first Yorkshire Day was held over 40 years ago, as a protest against reforms to local government. Since then, 1 August has evolved into a day of celebration; an opportunity to showcase all that Yorkshire has to offer. For this year’s occasion, for example, a model of York Minster has been sculpted from 75kg of Wensleydale.

Cheese-crafted landmarks aside however, this year’s Yorkshire Day saw a return to its political roots. Featured in Monday’s Yorkshire Post was an open letter to Theresa May, in which a direct appeal was made to the new Prime Minister on six key policy issues. At the top of that list was devolution.

Shadow Business Secretary and MP for Hemsworth, Jon Trickett, has been steadfast in his belief that further devolution is needed for Yorkshire.

“The only way we can take control of our future in Yorkshire is to ensure our voices are heard. That is why we need real devolution. The people of Yorkshire are best-placed to make the decisions about its future, not those in Whitehall.”

George Osborne’s plan for a Northern Powerhouse was big on rhetoric but had barely got off the ground when the former Chancellor left Number 11. Devolution was seen as a major component of the Powerhouse plans, but, as highlighted in the letter, projects that would have provided significant investment over recent times have failed to come to fruition.

Where’s the investment?

In 2010 David Cameron said he wanted the coalition to be the ‘greenest government ever’. Yorkshire as a whole was well placed to benefit, but Mr Cameron’s promise never really materialised. The renewable energy sector presented a significant opportunity for Yorkshire; however the government’s energy policy ‘reset’ resulted in the removal of subsidies for renewables. This was shortly followed by the scrapping of Selby’s £1 billion White Rose Carbon Capture and Storage project in partnership with Drax, a significant loss of investment in the region.

A little further west, Leeds has seen its plan for a £250 million trolley-bus network, otherwise known as the ‘Leeds New Generation Transport’ rejected by the Department for Transport, citing concerns over public interest. This comes after the previous ‘super-tram’ plan was rejected in 2005, after concerns over affordability and leaves one of the largest cities in Europe still without a mass-transportation system.

Judith Blake, Labour Leader of Leeds City Council, said that “Leeds has been let down by successive governments in Whitehall on transport – first Super-Tram and now with NGT.”

The decision will most likely refocus efforts to resolve the dispute over the Leeds City Region deal, which would see devolved powers in areas such Transport, among others.

The proposed devolution deal for the Sheffield City Region is at a more advanced stage and promises to provide an additional £1.3 billion over the next 30 years. But while the agreement has been ratified at a local level, the powers are yet to be formalised by Whitehall.

So what next?

Earlier this year concerns had been raised that Yorkshire risked being left behind, as other regions such as Greater Manchester continued to move forward with devolution. BDO’s Jason Whitworth, a partner at the Leeds office, said.

“We seem to be locked in debate over the division of political power in Yorkshire while Manchester is moving ahead with billions of pounds worth of devolution deals covering transport, skills and health,” said BDO’s Jason Whitworth, a partner at the Leeds office.

“We need to inject a sense of urgency and importance into the local government debate and help create the conditions for devolution to start delivering real benefits to the region.”

It is clear that there remain significant obstacles to a true re-balancing of the economy that was promised by the Northern Powerhouse, and Yorkshire’s predicted growth figures for the next decade remain below the national average.

However, with new faces in Downing Street, and perhaps more critically in the Treasury and the Department for Communities and Local Government, it is hoped that this year’s Yorkshire Day could provide the impetus needed to break the deadlock and move towards the devolution that many think is so badly needed (even if that isn’t part of the Northern Powerhouse), and in the long run attract the investment that it is hoped will come with it.

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