What even William the Conqueror failed to do in the 11th century, some of our narrow minded council leaders may be on the verge of doing – destroying the proud and historic county of Yorkshire. A number of devolution bids (I say devolution with tongue in cheek because surely what these people are bidding for isn’t real devolution) have gone in to the chancellor.
We have bids from the Sheffield centric South Yorkshire combined authority (containing north Nottinghamshire and north Derbyshire) as well as the Leeds centric West Yorkshire combined authority (containing parts of North Yorkshire – bizarrely it also includes Barnsley under its sphere of influence, an authority in South Yorkshire which also sits within the South Yorkshire region and whose leader, Steve Houghton, chairs the South Yorkshire region. This is the bizarre and ridiculous world of local politics remember). There are also bids under the names “Hull, Yorkshire, Leeds City Region and the Northern Powerhouse”, “York, North Yorkshire and the East Riding” and “Greater Yorkshire”. If you can make sense of this spaghetti of a devolution mess, you are a better person than me.
The point is that this mish-mash of mickey-mouse devolution proposals not only risks the fragmentation of the historic county of Yorkshire but are strategically naïve, lack ambition and totally lack any democratic accountability. After all how many local election manifestos’s leading up to the May elections contained proposals to break up our region in this way?
I’ve mentioned on this blog many times that I consider these council leaders implicit in selling this region down the river just so they can get their grubby fingers on some extra responsibilities. Rather than hold out for a better, strategically impressive and bold regional solution and including the people of Yorkshire in the conversation, they’ve sold us short. The only time these politicians wavered was when they were presented with the fait accompli of an elected mayor to give a veneer of democratic accountability. Of course they have fathomed a way round this – whoever the mayor is will be accountable to the leaders of the city region, i.e. the council leaders themselves will pull the mayor’s strings. To use an old union saying that is so pertinent in this discussion about the future of Yorkshire, “Divided we fall, United we stand”. Try telling that to careerist and power-hungry politicians though.
As I said in my last post, for me any final semblance of respect I may have had for these council leaders evaporated with their total lack of ambition in not trying to include education within their devolution bid in an attempt to try and improve the life chances of our young people and our future economy. With this as my focus, I’ve written to the Barnsley Chronicle, Sheffield Star and Yorkshire Post to call for a Yorkshire Challenge and try and stoke some kind of debate that I hope (albeit I fear it is too late) will stall these pathetic power grabs. I include my letter below…
‘Devolution’ bids from various parts of the Yorkshire region have now been submitted for consideration. Effectively power hungry and mainly, but not exclusively, Labour council leaders are aiming to finish the job started in the 1970s and rip the proud and historic entity of Yorkshire apart. For their lack of strategic vision, lack of ambition, lack of consultation with the general public and their sheer willingness to sell this county down the river for their thirty pieces of silver from the Chancellor they should be roundly condemned and suffer the consequences at the ballot box.
However one particular aspect is missing from each of the Yorkshire bids and these pygmies of politicians should hang their heads in shame as a result. There is no mention of bidding to take over education in any bid. At a time when Yorkshire schools are again at the bottom of the GCSE performance league tables different thinking is needed on how to re-vitalise our schools. It is through the education of our young people that the future prosperity of our region lies and it is clear our council leaders are more than happy to keep with the failing status quo so as not to rock the boat and therefore get their grubby hands on some small levers of power.
Of course there is a very good reason they’ve not done this. They realise that for us to change education for the better we need a regional not localised solution. This would be tantamount to them accepting their fragmented devolution approach is substandard in comparison to a regional approach.
There is a ready-made example of how a regional solution to education can transform schools. Twenty years ago London was in the same position Yorkshire is now – bottom of the education league. In the last decade they instigated a regional London Challenge. Now London leads the English educational league tables.
It is time our council leaders realised their power-grab will not only shatter Yorkshire but will do nothing for our future generations. It is time for a regional solution – it is time for a Yorkshire Challenge.