The Yorkshire Post has been making a laudable attempt to initiate a debate about Yorkshire devolution. The paper has carried a series of well written pieces from different viewpoints and is hosting a debate in a couple of weeks time (17th September in Leeds. Contact Jayne.firstname.lastname@example.org to register). This is in stark contrast to the almost complete lack of public consultation and engagement from local council leaders who are the forefront of the devolution discussions. It was somewhat ironic that George Osborne, on his visit to Yorkshire yesterday, was reported as saying: “I want to hear what local councils, local people think.” We don’t know what he is expecting but we can tell him that local people are not engaged in the process at all. There is no vehicle for testing public opinion.
The real debate at the moment has to be around whether two city regions strike out alone or whether the devolution settlement is a Yorkshire wide one. YDM is of the opinion – naturally enough – that Yorkshire as a whole should be the basis for devolution. The Yorkshire Post’s Tom Richmond captures our feelings precisely in his piece yesterday.
Gareth Shanks, the YDM secretary, looks at London’s continuing airport fiasco.
London has always loved to take a much larger slice of the pie when it came to infrastructure spending, but the debate surrounding her future air links really takes the biscuit.
On one hand, the answer is expansion of the current airports in London, which will involve destroying large spans of housing and industrial estates – ensuring that any attempt to go forward with these plans will be met with stern resistance by campaigners.
While on the other hand, building a brand new airport in the Thames Estuary had initial building costs that were just shy of an eye watering £50 billion pounds: judging by how government budgets work, we can expect that figure to easily shoot up.
In 2004, when London was bidding for the Olympic Games, the original budget for the Olympic Stadium was 282 million. It ended at 547 million, almost double.
The Airports Commission recently declared it was against building a new airport, but there are still key influential members of both the National and London government who see it as a positive step forward.
Either way, London is set to take another huge sum of money to invest in its self while the rest of the country suffers from ever aging infrastructure. It is of no great shock that only recently a £38.5 billion five year plan to improve the North’s train links, focusing on the trans-Pennine & the electrification of the Sheffield to London line, was shelved due to “rising costs”.
Sadly, of course, it doesn’t end there, in the run up to the General Election, George Osborne promised to support the One North plan should the country return a Conservative Government: the 15 year plan aims to spend £15 billion pounds on improving rail links between Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle.
He’s now gone silent.
The question that doesn’t seem to pop into the heads of the Westminster bureaucrats seems pretty clear to me, why does any new airport expansion have to be in London?
Obviously the London centric government we have in power couldn’t ever possibly dream of spending such sums of money outside of their own back garden, but if they truly want to deliver on their pre-election promise to rebalance the economy of England way from London and towards the neglected regions, such as Yorkshire, then why not invest in a swathe of airports in the North?
Manchester & Newcastle airports both find themselves within the top ten busiest in the country (based on the 2013/14 figures) and Yorkshire has three international airports: Doncaster, Leeds and Humberside. Those airports handled a grand total of 4,235,442 passengers last year*. In addition to this, Doncaster has one of the longest runways in the entire country, which makes it a perfect destination for haulage planes transporting cargo.
We all know Yorkshire has been shafted when it comes to infrastructure in general, but if you thought it might have been a different case for our air travel, sadly, it isn’t.
London will continue her quest to inwardly invest, regardless of the damage that the lack of development will do to our regional economies, quite simply because they don’t have to worry about us until the next General Election.
Humberside: 236,083 *2013 figures
Source: UK Civil Aviation Authority
News of the postponement of rail investment in the north and midlands somewhat fuelled the ire of those who thought the Government’s support for a ‘Northern powerhouse’ was half-hearted at best. YDM blog came across this excellent piece from Sarah Noble. a Liberal Democrat activist in Calderdale, which sums up the feelings of many quite perfectly and which she has allowed us to reproduce. The original – along with readers’ comments – is here.
Opinion: Ending the northern power cut
by Sarah Noble
Yesterday, Patrick McLoughlin announced what many of us had feared but were hoping would never happen: electrification of the train line between Manchester and Leeds was to be postponed, and possibly cancelled. The lynchpin of the Northern Powerhouse was pulled out and the plan predictably fell apart at the seams.
Three months ago, the Conservatives promised that £38 bn would be invested in the national rail network, mostly into electrifying the old diesel lines. This was so important to the Tories, we were told, that it was at the top of the manifesto. On page 11, the Tories outlined their plans for £13 bn for the North alone, going towards new trains, new lines, and new wires. And in one speech today, McLoughlin snuffed out the flame of hope in such a way on the Tories can.
The rail network in the North is completely dire, and bears all of the hallmarks of central government in London meddling time and time again. Serco-Abellio were awarded all but the actually profitable lines and told to run a vast network in the North using Cold War-era trains under the assumption that there was to be no growth and no investment in the Northern network. And to their credit, they’ve done a good job from what they’ve been given.
But rail in the north has grown beyond all expectations, and the small old “Pacer” trains, built on the cheap thirty years ago, can’t take the strain any longer. New trains and new electric wires would enable the North to step into the twentieth century while London aimed towards the twenty-second. But with electrification across the North and Midlands all but cancelled, we cannot expect the trains to be off the tracks for good before the Disability Discrimination Act’s deadline of 2019.
But, to nobody’s surprise, rail schemes in the South escaped the cut. The worst thing is that this isn’t a change in the state of affairs. Labour too must shoulder responsibility for the state of the North. They took their safe constituencies in the North for granted whilst bribing London with train line upon train line upon train line. Whilst Alistair Darling was busy approving Crossrail with its £20bn price-tag and funnelling more money into Thameslink, the DLR, and Terminal 5, tram projects in both Manchester and Leeds costing a fraction of the price got the axe from his department. All at the same time electrifying only nine miles of track. And they are now sowing the effects of complacency, with UKIP taking chunks of their support all across the North.
When compared to the two major parties, even doing nothing at all would make us come out smelling like roses. But we didn’t do just that. In the coalition, we grabbed the nettle by the thorn and pushed for the approval of the biggest rail project for the North for generatins: the Northern Hub. We pushed for wide-ranging electrification. And when Network Rail’s plans for electrification initially left out the Calder Valley line, local Liberal Democrats alongside our former transport minister, Baroness Kramer, lobbied for its inclusion.
As liberals, we know that the only way to prosperity is to give people the power to prosper, not by dictating that they must. We see in Scotland and Wales the success of proper representative devolution. And we see that, with the Northern Powerhouse, Osborne’s city region mayors, overwhelmingly rejected in Sheffield, Manchester, and Leeds just three years ago, will now be one-eyed kings leading the blind.
In November, the Yorkshire and Humber regional conference overwhelmingly passed motions for proper and accountable devolution and prosperity. Yorkshire clearly wants to replace unaccountable layers of bureaucracy with a strong democratically elected Parliament. Manchester clearly wants its own powers to build its own path to prosperity. As our MP in Leeds North West, Greg Mulholland said, “Yorkshire is the real entity. It is Yorkshire that is the brand and that has the huge economic potential for growth”. For a more prosperous North and for modern infrastructure, the only way forward is proper and accountable devolution. And we must push with every fibre of our resolve to secure that.
* Sarah Noble is a LGBT rights and feminist activist from Calderdale, and incoming executive committee member of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats.
For some time, George Osborne has been talking about a Northern Powerhouse. This is something ill-defined but which, in his imagination, can rebalance the out of kilter UK economy. Those of us at YDM have long felt that this approach – for Yorkshire at least – is limited in scope, divisive and undemocratic. Others are starting to feel the same, not least some Yorkshire MPs. Interestingly, over the past couple of weeks, we have seen the emergence of a new concept to challenge the Northern Powerhouse – that of a ‘Yorkshire Powerhouse’. Its first airing seems to have been at Prime Minister’s Questions on 3rd June in a question by Julian Sturdy MP and picked up by Greg Mulholland MP later in the same day in a debate on the Queen’s Speech. Again this is a concept that is ill-defined, but nevertheless is a positive contribution to the debate about devolution in Yorkshire.
Both MPs’ question/speech are reproduced below with the help of Hansard. It is interesting to read just how completely the Prime Minister fails to answer the question.
From Prime Minister’s Questions on 3rd June 2015
Q2.  Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): Thanks to the careful financial stewardship of this Government, York’s economy continues to grow, with unemployment a fraction of what it was five years ago. Will the Prime Minister assure me that his offer of devolution will percolate right through the great county of Yorkshire, empowering rural communities, as well as cities such as York, to deliver a Yorkshire powerhouse that rivals Manchester and London?
The Prime Minister: I certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. He talks about the strength of the Yorkshire economy. The claimant count in his constituency —the number of people claiming unemployment benefit—has come down by 74% since 2010. We see the northern powerhouse as the linking of the great northern cities as a counterpoint and a counterpoise to the strength of London. We are making good progress on that, but we certainly want more money, resources and powers to be devolved to those cities. The York, North Yorkshire and East Riding local growth deal, for example, is creating at least 3,000 jobs and allowing 4,000 homes to be built. We have made good progress, but there is more to be done in this Parliament.
From the debate on the Queen’s Speech 3rd June 2015
Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): It is pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Jayawardena). I congratulate him and other colleagues on their excellent maiden speeches. In my brief remarks, I will speak about devolution. May I ask your permission, Mr Speaker, to miss part of the winding-up speeches so that I can attend the special mass for Charles Kennedy and family? I would very much appreciate that and shall come to the Chamber immediately afterwards.
I am delighted that the Government are continuing to pursue the strong devolution agenda that the coalition Government set in place. The coalition finally stopped talking about devolution and actually started to deliver it. I am proud of the Liberal Democrats’ role in that, including in devolution—though not as much as we would like—for Leeds and Yorkshire.
It is slightly strange, however, that the Liberal Democrats, having always been the party for devolution, are now listening to the Conservative and Labour parties saying how passionately they support devolution. That is extremely welcome, but it is certainly the opposite of what was pursued during the 18 years of Conservative Government and the 13 years of Labour Government—the two most centralising Governments in British history. I welcome that trend and this new-found passion for devolution that seems to be found across the House. As for what is on offer, I would like the proposals to go further. Indeed, I would like the Liberal Democrats as a party to be far more radical on devolution. I do not think that our manifesto was sufficiently radical or clear. I strongly urge the two contenders for the party leadership and the wider party to put us back at the forefront of the devolution debate by arguing strongly for real devolution across the whole of the UK and by dealing with the West Lothian question as well as regional devolution.
Devolution is clearly linked to economic growth. The Local Government Association has pointed out that radical reform would help to deliver £11 billion in savings for the taxpayer, generate £80 billion in growth, create 700,000 new jobs and enable us to build half a million new homes, which we clearly need. The thorny issue in Leeds and Yorkshire has been whether we need to have a mayor. As hon. Members have said, that was rejected in Leeds, as it was elsewhere, but we now accept that that is the Government’s policy whether we like it or not. Clearly, we want to have devolution. If there is to be a push towards having an elected mayor, my challenge to Ministers and their team—I would warmly welcome positive and proactive discussions with them, with other colleagues in the House and with council colleagues—is this: instead of doing it on the basis of artificial metro areas, why can we not do what is the more obvious thing for our region and do it on the basis of the powerhouse of Yorkshire?
Yorkshire is the real entity. It is Yorkshire that is the brand and that has the huge economic potential for growth. It would be artificial to split the region. I am a very proud Leeds MP and Leeds is a huge economic driver of the country as well as our region but, to echo earlier comments, we need to ensure that devolution works for the rural areas as well as the towns and cities of Yorkshire. Yorkshire’s population is identical to that of Scotland and its GDP totals over £100 billion, yet we have nothing like the powers given, rightly, to Scotland and have no ability, bar what councils have, to raise our own taxes and to make transport decisions. We still have to come cap in hand to the Department for Transport to ask for the much needed rail link to Leeds Bradford airport. I will continue to champion that until it happens. We should not have to come cap in hand to the DFT for that. Given the fairly modest cost, we should be able to deliver that ourselves. Similarly, with the rather poorly thought through new generation transport trolley bus scheme, we want the power locally to make bold decisions about 21st century transport solutions. To do that, we need real fiscal autonomy.
I urge Ministers genuinely to look again at the historic county of Yorkshire. The carve-up of Yorkshire is generally regarded as a mistake. Why not reunite Yorkshire and give us the opportunity to have a Yorkshire powerhouse that would fit with the Government’s agenda but would also deliver real powerful devolution for one of the biggest and most important economic regions of our country?
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Lord Tyler, the Liberal Democrat peer who is in the vanguard of those within his party pushing for a devolved parliament in Yorkshire, wrote a blog piece for Liberal Democrat Voice recently (reproduced below). Essentially he lays down the gauntlet for YDM to pick up and show the preferred option for devolution here is indeed a parliament and not city states or combined authorities. We can assure him we will be doing just that, up to and beyond, the General Election. However, what is needed from the Liberal Democrats nationally is to abandon the presumption that we want city states as proposed by that party’s leader and that the form of devolution is a done deal. All options should be on the table otherwise it makes a mockery of the proposed Devolution Enabling Act (by the way can someone explain to us how that would work in practice?). As Liberal Democrats gather in Liverpool this weekend it will be interesting to see how this is fleshed out and whether devolution to Yorkshire feature in the party’s manifesto for May.
Paul Tyler writes… Devolution: Who’s next?
The eagle-eyed among LDV readers may have noticed last week good coverage for Nick Clegg’s trip to Cornwall on St Piran’s Day. As well as the usual round of school and business visits, Nick took the opportunity to publish a joint article on Cornish devolution with local Lib Dem Council Leader, Cllr Jeremy Rowe. For some reason the local papers, which published it, haven’t put it online, so here’s a link to it on my own website.
For the first time, Jeremy and Nick spell out how Cornwall could use the Lib Dems’ proposed Devolution Enabling Act to form a Cornish Assembly, with powers over housing, education, health and public transport. They write:
Cornwall could alter right-to-buy, keeping back vital homes for 29,000 people waiting on the local housing list. We could change planning law and Council Tax so buying up second homes in Cornwall comes with a greater price. And Cornwall could blaze a trail, integrating local NHS services and funding with the social care which people rely on all year round – that alone could save millions of pounds and improve thousands of lives.
It’s great to see the political concept of devolution brought alive with real examples of how an Assembly could vary “one size fits all” rules made in London, but which just don’t suit the economy and environment elsewhere.
Cornwall’s great advantage is that there is a measure of political consensus – with the notable exception of the Tories! – about what they want. The Devolution Enabling Act, if we get it on the statute book after May, will let them take it.
What is urgently needed is clear agreement – preferably across party, but certainly within the Lib Dems – on what other areas of the country want. I have never lived in Yorkshire, so don’t presume to prescribe what local people should want there, but surely it’s time to decide whether the Yorkshire Devolution Movement’s call for a Yorkshire Assembly is the best way to go or whether smaller city-based institutions, perhaps based on the existing City Deal areas, are preferred. The Coalition has made strides in devolving responsibility to Sheffield and Leeds, but Whitehall relies on the lack of consensus about where to devolve power as an excuse to retain it in London.
It’s unfair, of course, for me to pick out Yorkshire. I do so as a compliment – because the prospect of progress there seems clearer than almost anywhere else outside Cornwall. Every Lib Dem in every part of England should be thinking about how they would want a Devolution Enabling Act to be used in their area. To campaign for devolution, we must campaign on what Lib Dems locally would do with it. To do that, each area must decide!
Since the core purpose is to make a reality of subsidiarity (decisions taken as close as possible to the people they affect) this bottom-up initiative is essential. Far from attracting snorts of derision about more government, the coverage in Cornwall was almost all positive (see BBC and Western Morning News) with only Cornish Nationalists raging that they wanted both a Cornish Assembly and a continuing Cornwall-wide Council!
* Paul Tyler is the Liberal Democrat spokesman in the Lords on constitutional reform issues
Stewart Arnold writes:
Matthew Townend, a Reader of English and Related Literature at York University, has just published a book ‘Viking Age Yorkshire’ which I can thoroughly recommend as a hugely useful addition to the growing literature on the history of Yorkshire. Worth a read!
I attended a lecture by Dr. Townend in the Mansion House, York yesterday as part of the city’s Jorvik Viking Festival which picked up several interesting extracts from his book and started to answer a few questions about Viking age Yorkshire.
It’s impossible to summarise everything, after all the book runs to over 300 pages, but a few things stood out to me.
Firstly, although the name’ Yorkshire’ is a slight anachronism when it comes to Viking Age history (‘Yorkshire’ is not mentioned until the 11th century), the area or political unit it designates is not.
Secondly, having been established as a Viking kingdom for around 200 years, ‘Yorkshire’ was conquered and settled by the Anglo-Saxons or the ‘English’ as they called themselves. Essentially, ‘Yorkshire’ was colonised by the English from around the mid 10th century. A process that continued to the period of the ‘Harrying’ over a hundred years later.
Thirdly, there is no evidence that the Vikings gathered in Jorvik for an assembly or þing (thing). However, although now lost, Yorkshire ‘boasted at least one example’ of this: a site named Tingwala or Thingwala near Whitby, recorded in the 12th century but now lost. It is not beyond imagination therefore to think that a Viking parliament or þing for Yorkshire may well have existed.
Fourthly, Dr. Townend concludes ‘the Scandinavian centuries were a defining period, not only on account of the events and developments of the period itself, but also for the regional sense of self, and sense of difference, which the period consolidated and bequeathed.’
All in all a fascinating lecture.
Chair of the Yorkshire Devolution Movement, Nigel Sollitt, writes:
As the general election approaches and candidates are selected across the country, the situation in Redcar throws up an interesting anomaly. The two recently formed regionalist parties, Yorkshire First (YF) and the North East Party (NEP) on the face of it could both be expected to put up candidates in the Redcar constituency. Both parties campaign for devolved power but whereas YF believes Redcar should be represented by a Yorkshire Parliament, NEP have plans to bring the people of Redcar under the same parliament as those of Newcastle.
The situation has arisen due to two measures imposed by the government, the Local Government Act 1972 (LGA1972), which restructured the boundaries of areas administered by local authorities, and the creation of Government Regions (GRs).
LGA1972 did not abolish traditional counties. It is therefore fact that the traditional county of Yorkshire still exists and that any town, village or piece of land that was part of Yorkshire prior to that Act coming into force in 1974, such as Redcar, is still part of Yorkshire now. Unfortunately, because those local authorities refer to the areas they administer also as ‘counties’, it has caused much confusion over the word and many people now believe, wrongly, that it was traditional counties that were altered or even eliminated. Yorkshire has been particularly adversely affected by this. We suffered the abominations of ‘Cleveland’ and ‘Humberside’, both now thankfully gone, along with parts of our county being placed under the administration of local authorities bearing such names as ‘County Durham’, ‘Cumbria’ or even ‘Lancashire’ and ‘Greater Manchester’!
The introduction of GRs complicated the situation further. Again, the government paid no respect to the loyalties and identities of people when they decided which local authority areas would be included in which GR and as a consequence of this, parts of Yorkshire such as Saddleworth, West Craven and Sedbergh & Dentdale found themselves in the North West GR whilst former Startforth Rural District, South Stockton, Middlesbrough and Redcar & Cleveland were placed in the GR of the North East.
The overall effect of this Westminster meddling is that, instead of Yorkshire being a clearly identifiable integral entity in all respects as it should be, the government has fragmented traditional Yorkshire between various alien local authorities and unnatural ‘regions’, thereby administratively separating Tykes of many settlements from the bulk of their historic homeland and county brethren in the GR of Yorkshire & the Humber. But despite the name of the GR or local authority, those places all remain parts of Yorkshire, including Redcar & Cleveland http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Redcar_and_Cleveland !
Redcar is situated in the territory of the former Brythonic kingdom of Ebrauc, the first of the ancient kingdoms to become part of the Anglo kingdom of Deira, the original name for Yorkshire https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=mOa7BAAAQBAJ&pg=PT24&lpg=PT24&dq=deira+yorkshire&source=bl&ots=vu9HxPzrJP&sig=Dah0WUFMw-fv-aVI5C71K4T0nPg&hl=en&sa=X&ei=GrqxVJmyDNLLaPnvgMAB&ved=0CCIQ6AEwATgK#v=onepage&q=deira%20yorkshire&f=false . It has therefore been an intrinsic part of the heritage, culture, and history of Yorkshire for fourteen centuries. Compare such depth of identity to the mere twenty years since the North East GR was imposed upon the people of Redcar and it clearly puts into perspective where the loyalty and identity of Redcar folk lay! This is demonstrated by such facts as every year on 1st August they fervently celebrate Yorkshire day and last year actually hosted the Yorkshire Ridings Society for their Yorkshire Day ceremonies http://www.yorkshireridings.org/news/2014/08/redcar-highstreet-was-packed-today-when-yorkshire-day-fell-on-market-day-but-this-resultedin-a-bumper-turnout-for-the-annual.html , that they proudly support Yorkshire County Cricket Club and that since LGA1972 there have been many calls from Redcar for the area to be returned to Yorkshire administration including Councillor Chris Abbott’s call for all south Teesside to embrace their Yorkshire heritage and Councillor Tristan Learoyd’s call just last month for a referendum for Redcar & Cleveland to have closer Yorkshire ties rather than joining a combined Tees Valley authority with which nobody identifies http://www.gazettelive.co.uk/news/teesside-news/war-words-redcar-cleveland-council-8313601 .
I understand NEP intends to contest a dozen or so seats within the North East which comprises 30 parliamentary constituencies in total. Three of those 30 constituencies are wholly in Yorkshire (Middlesbrough, Middlesbrough South & East Cleveland and Redcar & Cleveland) with a further two being largely in Yorkshire (Bishop Auckland and Stockton South). Seemingly, this leaves more than twice as many North East constituencies that are wholly outside Yorkshire as there will be NEP candidates to stand in them. Why then, would they choose to contest a constituency that is bound to cause unnecessary conflict with a fellow regionalist party?
Whilst the Yorkshire Devolution Movement supports NEP and regional devolution in the North East, we must protest that the North East starts on the north bank of the river Tees and that anywhere between the Tees and the Humber is Yorkshire. It therefore follows that if any regional devolution party is to stand in constituencies between those two rivers, it should only be a party that stands for Yorkshire!
Nigel Sollitt, Chair, YDM
Lord Haskins writes in the Yorkshire Post that English devolution is once more on the political agenda. His acute observation cannot be faulted, nor his point that ‘Yorkshire, with a population of 5.3 million, also has a strong popular identity’. However, he lets himself down in his call for federation of Yorkshire LEPs. He talks about this body demonstrating ‘competency and accountability’, but then nowhere goes on to explain how this is to be achieved. The history of the RDA in Yorkshire(which Haskins seems to want to recreate) was never one of accountability hence its unpopularity with Conservative politicians amongst others. He is dismissive of regional assemblies (and this from the man who Chaired the hapless ‘yes4Yorkshire’ campaign in 2004) not appreciating that the accountability for the LEPs he is seeking would be created in a single stroke with the setting up of such a body. In short, an interesting analysis but does little to further the devolution debate in Yorkshire.
From Lib Dem Voice: http://www.libdemvoice.org/devolution-must-go-beyond-westminster-43792.html
Just a pity it seems the direction of the Liberal Democrats, through Nick Clegg’s obsession with city regions, is totally contrary to the views of David Laws MP.
David Laws was sitting beside William Hague yesterday during the announcement and added a note of disagreement afterwards:
“Devolution and localism must go beyond Westminster. Up and down the country, citizens want change that reflects their local needs and circumstances.
We cannot have a debate about devolving greater powers to nations without also considering how we give local areas more power.
If we agree it is right to give the 5 million people in Scotland and 3 million people in Wales a greater say over their local services, then we cannot ignore the 5 million people in Yorkshire who have the same rights to local democracy and empowerment
It is disappointing the Conservatives are not supporting our proposal for ‘Devolution on Demand’ which would give more powers to the English cities, counties and regions – especially places like Cornwall and Yorkshire.”