There is an interesting piece in today’s Yorkshire Post from the Sheffield City Region mayor and Barnsley Central MP, Dan Jarvis (read the full piece online here), reflecting on what he has achieved at the first anniversary of his election to the role of South Yorkshire Mayor last May. The above is, for me, a particularly pertinent extract as it goes to the root of what future for delivering devolution to and releasing the potential of Yorkshire as an entity really is.
I have a lot of respect for Dan Jarvis. He is one of the very few South Yorkshire Labour figures I have time for and if the Labour party ever wants to regenerate into a party that is capable of reclaiming power, it is to people of the quality of Mr Jarvis they need to look to. Having said that, the role he fulfills as Sheffield City Region Mayor is more a sign of the contempt that Westminster has for regional self determination than a respect for proper devolution. Until we challenge this model that Westminster insists on we will only ever have DINO – Devolution In Name Only.
On a day when Labour and Conservatives have been punished at the polls and the Yorkshire Party makes breakthroughs by winning its first council seats above town and parish level in the East Riding and Selby as well as some near misses in Wakefield and growing shares of the vote across the region, we have reached a crossroads in our devolved future. The questions Mr Jarvis poses are key to this future.
I know what kind of devolution I want and I know what geographical area I want it to cover and I know what powers and responsibilities it should have. My difference with the quote is that Mr Jarvis links these powers and responsibilities to a Mayor – I prefer to see a model akin to that in Scotland, Wales and (if it is every ‘switched back on’) Northern Ireland. Similar powers to those that Scotland has, with the historic boundaries of the county of Yorkshire as the region. What I am hoping is that he is not trying to, in a very subtle way, open the debate that we should be happy with the small scale Metro-Mayor model that the Sheffield City Region is very much an example of. This was decisively rejected in referendums in Barnsley and Doncaster. Of course I could argue that the acceptance of a referendum result is not in vogue at the moment – so I do worry!
There is too much “what can we have” and not enough “we want this” in our dealings with Westminster and Whitehall and in discussions on a regional level. We need to be making a much more vocal and vigorous case for real devolution. On the doorstep, when you take the time to explain real devolution to people, there is usually full agreement and a realisation of how powerful this would be for the future of our region. There are too many half truths and lies spread by those with a vested interest of keeping us shackled to the largesse of Westminster – whether that be council leaders who fear for the loss of their power and influence or politicians and business leaders that see a powerful Yorkshire as a threat to the status quo (of us accepting crumbs from the London table). There is too much ignorance of what proper devolution is and we have to start correcting this ignorance and calling out and challenging those that lie and deceive to feather their beds.
One Yorkshire is better than what we have at the moment but it must be seen not as the end of the journey but a brief stopover on our ultimate destination. How brave we are willing to be to drive this ourselves rather than be led by those that wish our aims ill will determine what we end up with in the future.