While the rest of the North pushes for devolution by 2017, Leeds is stuck in a stalemate, but why?
Devolution will take powers away from the Government and hands it back to local authorities. It’s an opportunity that much of the North has grabbed with both hands. In fact, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Birmingham and even Sheffield city regions have all negotiated deals to get the right powers to suit them by 2017, with elected mayors to lead and implement the changes. But while they plough ahead, the rest of Yorkshire (Leeds included) is still squabbling over a deal.
Benefits of devolution
It’s strange that one of the most populated areas of the UK, with an economy that’s near-equal to the whole of Ireland, has yet to bite the bullet and work out a deal, especially when you look at what it could mean to us.
While all devolution deals are different, they generally focus on giving local authorities more power over areas like transport, skills and local planning, with more local taxes given back to the city region, and the extra change from our own pockets will be able to make a difference to you, me and the city we live in.
For a start, it’ll boost the economy. Right now, we’re tied up in endless bureaucracy that means councils have to rely on government approval before going ahead with everything from new signposts to brownfield developments. But with devolution, we’ll be able to make these decisions locally, allowing us to plough forward with essential projects and developments that will drive growth, attract investment and directly benefit residents.
Take the trolleybus for example. It’s a love it or hate it scheme, and there are probably those among you who would prefer if it was never approved, but it’s stuck at government level – and the same would happen to any alternative that was put on the table. By taking the power away from the government and giving it to local authorities, we’ll be cutting out the middleman.
This will also be helped by a more united and co-operative Yorkshire. Together, we’re stronger. We’ll have a collective voice and we’ll be better able to represent local people. And if that doesn’t happen, if we’re not given what we’re promised, we’ll know who to hold accountable – the members of local government. There’ll be no escaping who is responsible for what happens, whether good or bad.
So what’s the hold up?
With four different Yorkshire-based devolution bids on the table, we’ve reached a frustrating stalemate. The first one is the Leeds City Region, something we’re familiar with, which sees the West Yorkshire councils of Leeds, Bradford, Kirklees, Calderdale and Wakefield come together with York, Craven, Harrogate and Selby.
There’s also York City Region, factoring in all the North Yorkshire districts with East Riding, as well as potentially Hull and West Yorkshire. As well as a Greater Yorkshire bid, which is the whole of Yorkshire without Hull (and Sheffield of course), and a final, recently submitted bid, which includes Greater Yorkshire with Hull.
With Labour strongholds across West Yorkshire and Conservative majorities across North Yorkshire, it’s inevitable that certain deals give sway to certain parties – which hasn’t made finding a resolution any easier. And so we’re stuck in a mire. Different places want different things, and unfortunately a lot of it has come down to the usual political posturing, forgetting perhaps that these deals are meant to be about the people, not the parties.
Which deal do we want?
The hold up is to some extent understandable, however, as each authority considers which would be best for them, but time is running out – and realistically, if we want a deal by 2017, many of the deals on the table aren’t even viable.
“If our region wants to see progress soon, the only immediate option is a Leeds City Region deal.” Chair of the Leeds Enterprise Partnership, Roger Marsh, told us. “The other proposed solutions are not workable, certainly not within the 2017 timescale that Manchester, Sheffield and others are working towards. We are supportive of other deals following as quickly as possible, with the appropriate collaborative links on issues such as culture, sport and tourism.”
It’s something that even the opposition agree with him on, “The Leeds City Region proposal is probably the best developed from an economic point of view,” Richard Honorary of the Yorkshire Devolution Movement, told us. “So I can understand why those proposing it do not want to get side tracked by ‘Greater Yorkshire’ but they could be missing a massive opportunity by going it alone; plus chaos is likely to ensue if they try to cherry pick the bits they want from North Yorkshire. This could be a really divisive approach.”
That’s the crux of it. One deal is ready now, the other isn’t – but if we go with the one we can put into action by the 2017 deadline, will we be missing a trick in the long run? Honorary certainly thinks so. “The Greater Yorkshire Proposal has the most potential but it would require a considerable amount of development to become a reality. It is the most inclusive, so from our point of view it is the nearest things to ‘Yorkshire devolution’.”
He makes a good point, but let’s not forget that Sheffield has already agreed their devolution deal, so while we may dream of uniting Yorkshire with our deal, we’ll never really be able to realise this. We don’t want to leave anyone out, but if we can’t come to a decision, we’ll all be left behind as we continue to squabble over one option and the other.
What’s to be done?
Of course, we don’t want to rush into a decision. The wait for devolved powers has been an incredibly long one, and the worst thing we could do is rush ahead without considering the consequences of our decisions – but how long should we wait when there’s a viable deal on the table that see us benefiting in 2017, just like our neighbours.
While supportive of their own bid, LEP Chair, Roger Marsh made a fine point that brings into focus the fact that decisions need to be made, and quickly, when he told us, “If a City Region deal isn’t agreed swiftly, not only will the whole of Yorkshire continue to miss out, but also the North and the nation.”
What we really need is action, and we need it now. The devolution deals on the table will hand power from the government to Yorkshire – and that power will make a real difference to the lives of people who live here. Right now, we’re letting a cracking opportunity slip through our fingers, and it has to stop.