It is August the 1st and another Yorkshire day. Twitter, Facebook and the Yorkshire Post are full of things to make you proud to be from Yorkshire or to have chosen God’s own county as your home. Last year I was ‘gagging’ Dickie Bird in Barnsley to highlight the fact that Yorkshire as a region has no voice in the national arena. I also delivered a white rose with a message to Sir Steve Houghton the leader of Barnsley Council to ask him to not sanction the mickey-mouse devolution deal for the Sheffield City Region.
Since then the devolution deal for the Sheffield Region has become a farce with the expected in-fighting between council leaders and our region has not moved one millimetre further towards a state where the people of Yorkshire can actually take more control and accountability for its governance and future.
At a time when electrification of the railways in the North is being cancelled yet Crossrail in London gets the go-ahead, when HS2 is foisted upon us connecting London to Leeds but ignoring the towns that desperately need improved infrastructure, when we approach Brexit when our region could offer so much as a brand well known and respected across the globe, our region continues to be ignored and paid lip-service by politicians at election times. At a time when the government can find an extra £100,000,000 for each DUP vote to prop themselves up but can’t find any money to help to raise standards in our schools our region continues to scrape along with massive under-investment in comparison to our cousins in the South East.
There has never been a more persuasive case for giving real autonomy and devolution to the people of Yorkshire. The problem is that the government and those in the intelligentsia who set the news agendas only want to work within the current structures which means all they want to do is build a devolution deal around our long derided local council structures.
In London, a very diverse and different region, they have a mayor who is democratically elected held to account by a democratic and directly elected assembly. The government (and our council leaders) don’t think we are good enough for this. They want to divide and conquer – their view is that as a region we are too different and diverse to be governed as one entity (such as London or even the UK!) so they want to develop small scale regional devolution deals that are based around local council and economic areas taking no account of geographic and historical boundaries. Rather than having an assembly to hold the regional leader to account (like London has) they want to put the council leaders in a position where they hold a mayor to account (when you see the word account in this context – read control). The problem is these people have demonstrated time and again that their interest is not Yorkshire as a whole but their own coterie of sycophants. Of course this structure suits these council leaders perfectly – they get to control (and probably some more allowances as well). Their preferred model would be to take the electorate out all together and elect the mayor themselves. The problem with this model is it isn’t at all democratic and by restricting the deals to smaller regions there isn’t the scope for the deep change this region needs and it won’t tie together the big strength we have as a region – our brand and our diversity.
I predict that unless the people of Yorkshire start speaking up and demanding a fair deal for their region – at least as fair as Londoners get – and making sure politicians are listening at the ballot box, I will be making the same points next year and the year after. We need to be brave and bold and we need to strip back the decay that is our political systems nationally and locally and start again. Yorkshire has the potential to be re-born as a beacon of economic excellence – a real powerhouse of the UK economy if only those in power give us the means to do this.
Happy Yorkshire Day!