The Yorkshire Post’s main editorial piece today rightly points out the importance of the support of the Yorkshire people when it comes to making any devolution settlement work across the region. This is, after all, something YDM has been campaigning for from the outset. Nevertheless, the Yorkshire Post’s insistence on a reference to ‘taxpayers’ rather undersells the possible wider engagement possible in this process. Scotland showed the way last year with its 85% turnout in a referendum where citizens felt greatly empowered by the vote and the role they had in making such a huge decision. That same empowerment should be shared by the people of Yorkshire, whether they be taxpayers, students, the retired, full time carers or others. This is a hugely significant decision, one that will define the sort of Yorkshire we want to live in over the next 10-20 years. So yes it’s right to include the public in that debate, but also to widen the engagement as far as possible.
Yorkshire Post 3rd February 2016
People power and devolution deals
THERE is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to devolution – what works in Greater Manchester may not work on this side of the Pennines where the political and economic landscape is very different, and where local authority leaders in West, North and East Yorkshire are still unable to reconcile their differences so that this region can speak, and act, with one voice on the big issues facing the county.
Yet this impasse, as the West Riding councils finalise their own plans for self-governance, gives credence to today’s Parliamentary report which says that the Government – and town hall bosses – have failed to engage with the public. It is a valid criticism. There is disquiet at the extent to which George Osborne is imposing elected mayors when voters in Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield and Sheffield rejected the concept in a referendum on 2012 while West Yorkshire’s politicians and officials seem very intent on protecting their personal fiefdoms at all costs.
However, if the political elite actually had the courage to ask Yorkshire taxpayers for their views, they would hear the clamour for politicians to work together for the greater good. There would also be deep scepticism over any additional tiers of bureaucracy, and the implications for the public purse when there are legitimate concerns about the burgeoning cost of local government – can Leeds, for example, continue to justify the expense of 99 councillors?
If and when a devolution settlement for Yorkshire is signed off, it will only work if it carries public support from the outset. And that means local taxpayers – the most important people of all – being convinced that any deal will, in fact, work to their advantage. Much still needs to be made before this point is reached.
Stewart Arnold, Vice Chair of the Yorkshire Devolution Movement, writes about his experiences at a recent one day event on devolution.
I went over to the one day event on devolution titled ‘Power to the North? Prospects and Challenges to Devolution & City Deals in the North of England’ at the University of Leeds last Friday.
The aim of the event, organised by the White Rose Consortium for the North of England (WRCN), was, according to the blurb, ‘to gather views from across Yorkshire and the North of England on devolution, the Northern Powerhouse, and ‘City Deals’, so as to reflect on and understand the impact, potential and challenges of the new agenda’.
A part of this there was a keynote speech from Lord Kerslake, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group’s (APPG) inquiry on reform, decentralisation and devolution. Lord Kerslake, formerly of these parts (he was Chief Executive of Sheffield City Council from 1997-2008) spoke well enough and made a comment along the lines of ‘how do we stop this being a conversation between the powerful and become one with the public?’. Much applause at this point but we didn’t realise he was being ironic because as soon as his speech was finished, pausing only for a plate of sandwiches at the lunch, he was off!
This was a pity because the event provided an opportunity to hear from a wide range of speakers: academics, politicians, local government officers, representatives of campaign groups and NGOs and others. A majority of those speaking called for a proper engagement with the people of Yorkshire around this ‘devolution’ debate and there was palpable frustration that such a ‘conversation’ or even ‘constitutional convention’ could not happen given the apparent lack of leadership and resources’. People were reminded later in the day how interesting the Citizens Assembly projects were in relation to the debate. The outcomes of the Assembly North (in Sheffield) have been subject to a previous blog but by way of a reminder the Assembly agreed, after several days of consideration, on the following recommendations:
- The majority of the members advocate a directly elected assembly for Yorkshire with substantial powers, including some tax-raising and law-making powers.
- Members also support a range of measures designed to enhance public participation in local and regional decision-making.
- The majority of members do not support the proposed devolution deal in its current form.
In similar fashion to Lord Kerslake, Councillor Box and Tom Riordan, Chief Executive of Leeds City Council, did not tarry for long after giving their presentations. Councillor Box, was in combative form, although quite clearly delusional. He made the comment that ‘support for Yorkshire brand was nostalgia’, he said he both opposed and supported the building of HS2 and that there was no single Yorkshire economy. Sadly, because of his quick exit, I was unable to remind him of his comment from ten years ago when he was Yorkshire and Humber Assembly chairman:
“The challenges to create that future remain the same and it is only by working on important issues such as transport, economic development, rural matters and together as a region that we can hope to tackle them and address the prosperity gap between the North and the South.”
I can only assume Peter Box’s body has been taken over by aliens in the intervening ten years.
There were a number of very good contributions: Peter Salveson, Diana Wallis, Lord Haskins and Professor Martin Smith all made very salient points. Martin Smith, from York University, summed up the current situation when he said: ‘This process is not about devolution rather it is about managing local economic growth’.
The whole event was filmed with a view to broadcasting it at a later date. I would recommend picking this up. There was also the launch of a booklet: The Politics of the North: Governance, territory and identity in Northern England’. Available here http://speri.dept.shef.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Politics-of-the-North-Hayton-Giovannini-Berry.pdf
Finally, I would say, in support of the event how good it is to see the whole debate on devolution now occupying the minds of many people in what I would call the ‘mainstream’ rather than those traditionally on the fringe of this enterprise. I remember back in the summer of 2013 trying to sell the idea of a ‘devolution conference’ to the Politics Department at Hull University who, while interested enough, felt the theme didn’t fit with their research priorities. So it was Arianna Giovannini at Huddersfield who took this up and a year ago organised a conference at Huddersfield with the title ‘Decentralisation and the future of Yorkshire’. Those involved in the Yorkshire devolution campaign should be thankful to her and other colleagues who have driven this forwards and in turn produced some very interesting and useful research along the way.
Simon Jenkins in today’s Guardian nails the reason why the North resents London so much. As he points out it’s due to the imbalance in spending both actual and perceived. (He also has a terrific sub-headline: It’s obscene that the capital gets whatever it wants – more bridges, concert halls, railways – while the regions are starved of funding)
Not sure if this is an appropriate place to wish all readers of and visitors to this blog a Happy Christmas but we’ll do it anyway!
From the Labour List blog. Former director of the Campaign for Yorkshire, Jane Thomas, writes (with Mike Buckley) how Labour’s response to the devolution proposals is indistinct and how the party can reclaim it.
The politics of devolution: how Labour can reclaim it
13th November, 2015 2:52 pm
By Mike Buckley and Jane Thomas
Dan Jarvis in his recent speech to IPPR North argued that the ‘devolution debate represents perhaps the greatest opportunity to remake the State and empower people for a generation’. Dan’s right – and if you missed his speech it lays out a far more well developed vision of a Northern Powerhouse than Osborne’s and deserves a read.
Two things remain. The first is this – most people just aren’t interested in devolution. Despite the major changes proposed across the North few people seem enthused by the idea of another tier of government or remotely concerned that we have a highly political chancellor making devolution policy without authority or accountability. If devolution is going to succeed and be truly democratic we need to find ways to engage people in the process. The Tories’ top down, piecemeal, approach makes this hard but also provides an opportunity – if they won’t do the democratic engagement we can. A pilot run by the Electoral Reform Society has shown how this can elicit interesting results – a scaled up version could generate the support and engagement devolution needs.
The second is this – the politics matters. We let the politics escape us in Scotland and suffered the consequences. We need to keep a handle on the politics in England both regionally and nationally. Devolution is Labour territory that has been stolen from under our noses by the Tories – we need to claim it back.
We know the history. Frustrations around a Westminster-centric system and growing regional inequality have never coalesced into a demand for devolution in England. There is absolutely no appetite for it. Even the good people of the North East gave it a resounding thumbs down in 2004. We politicos have taken more of an interest since the Scottish referendum, recognising that the electorate is fragmenting and voting patterns with it. Even the Conservatives have recognised the economic necessity and political opportunity despite having led all the anti-devolution campaigns back in the noughties – but the public remain largely unaware or disinterested.
When Osborne stood up in Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry and announced the country’s need for a Northern Powerhouse he spoke about rebalancing the economy and devolution. He didn’t mention his desire to devolve responsibility for cuts and rehabilitate the Tory brand in the north. It is too easy to dismiss the Northern Powerhouse as simply a ruse to gather Tory votes in the North but we would be short-sighted to deny that it’s part of their thinking. While the Tories can just about rely on the Midlands and South for a majority their need to retain and increase Tory seats in Yorkshire and Lancashire remains – hence the on-off railway upgrades and other sweeteners. Even if the Tories fail to gain ground in the North we cannot be complacent. UKIP are diminished nationally but cost us seats last May, while some believe an SNP of the North could displace us.
A regional party remains unlikely but we were nevertheless slow to recognise both opportunity and threat in Scotland and England after the Scottish referendum. The Tories within hours of the result were talking about English Votes for English Laws, an English parliament and devolution to cities. Not only have the Tories stolen our clothes but in late 2015 our response remains indistinct (admittedly we’ve had things on) while Osborne is powering ahead with his offer of money and limited responsibilities to selected cities in an attempt to show he means business. Osborne is canny enough to know that as cuts approach cash-strapped local authorities have to make hard choices as they seek to protect services for the most vulnerable. For Labour councils this is a double-edged sword – take the deals, the power and today’s offer of money in the knowledge that they come as a package with elected mayors and future cuts.
The proposed deal for Sheffield City Region is a case in point. The offered £30 million a year could create opportunities to develop needed skills training, transport and strategic planning but the model is based on an assumption that new business development will create growth and fiscal independence from Whitehall. There is no social dimension in Osborne’s vision and no true ability to develop a vibrant local or regional economy.
In governance terms the wisdom of creating a body that covers South Yorkshire with bits of other counties instead of a Yorkshire-wide deal seems lacking. Despite the Region being intended as a single unit the elected Mayor will have authority only over the South Yorkshire authority areas, leaving the added on parts of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire to their own devices. If this sounds confusing on paper it could be even more confused in practice and may not lead to the vibrant economic region we’ve been promised.
So where does this leave us? Most developed nations have a clear and universal system of local and regional governance that works in partnership with national government rather than our patchwork and incomplete system. Osborne’s vision is piecemeal, politically motivated and lacks a social dimension or integration with a national industrial strategy – hence the madness of a government committed to a Northern Powerhouse standing aside as major industries in Redcar and Scunthorpe go to the wall. The loss of jobs is tragic. The loss of infrastructure surely essential to the development of a northern economy is pure vandalism.
Yet the devolution deals, while imperfect, do create an opportunity to talk about devolution more broadly. The need to resolve frustrations in Scotland, Wales and even England as EVEL proposals are debated adds even greater weight to the question of what devolution is for and what it is supposed to address. Sheffield council and others are absolutely right to conclude that while these may not be the deals we would have chosen they are the only ones on the table and should be considered – devolution sadly cannot wait for the election of a Labour government.
We need to take back the initiative on ground that is rightfully ours. We should develop Jon Trickett’s proposed constitutional convention and be clear about its purpose and outcomes. We should use this opportunity to look at House of Lords reform, proportional representation, a Bill of Rights and reform of voter registration – decoupling it from boundary reviews. A radical agenda with clear, tangible outcomes for local economies and communities should be part of our offer as we approach 2020 and could help us win back natural allies in Scotland, the North and areas like the South West that have been overlooked thus far. The Tories’ lack of ambition and inability to integrate an industrial and employment strategy with true devolution of power and fiscal autonomy provides us with an opportunity that we should take.
This is our agenda and our ground. It’s time to reclaim it.
Stewart Arnold, Deputy Leader of Yorkshire First and former Chair of the Campaign for Yorkshire writes about current developments in the devolution debate
As reported on this blog a couple of days ago, the Citizens’ Assembly in Sheffield voted on Sunday for a directly elected regional assembly for Yorkshire as its preferred option of the different potential devolution arrangements presented in depth over two weekends. Of course, that is much the preferred arrangement for YDM too, but the decision also shows how far the debate on devolution has moved on in the space of less than two years.
Since April last year, when Yorkshire First was first set up, the main aim has been to make the case for decision making in key and important policy issues to be dragged away from London and made here in Yorkshire instead. We wanted to remain open as to exactly how this was to be delivered; we deliberately didn’t want to get sidelined by structures and procedures.
As time has gone on, however, although the argument for greater decision making in Yorkshire has been made successfully, the result has come with a very prescriptive procedure. In other words, just what we wanted to avoid. Instead of a wide ranging discussion amongst all the people in Yorkshire, which is something Yorkshire First has been advocating all along, we have a Government that has set out the terms for devolution. In effect, these are joint arrangements of local authorities headed by an elected Mayor. Sheffield has already signed up to this and Leeds is pushing to be the next. Of course, both deals leave much of the rest of Yorkshire out. As well as being divisive, these deals are undemocratic. Nowhere has the public been consulted on these arrangements. In fact, it’s worse than that, because where the people have been consulted (in 2012 on whether they wanted elected Mayors) their views have been totally ignored. So the cynicism with which the people of Yorkshire see the devolution process now on offer is understandable. A cynicism which may well extend to the turnout for the Mayoral election itself in two years time, especially if the choice for the post is between various retreads and has-beens from all parties.
To us at Yorkshire First this is an opportunity missed. Here was the possibility to engage people in a process to determine what they want their communities to look like over the next generation. This was a process which after all worked well in Scotland during their Constitutional Convention which met over six years to thrash out a blueprint for devolution that took the people along with it. And of course a process which worked so well in the Scottish referendum itself just a year ago: packed town hall meetings, marches, online campaigns and debates amongst others. People were engaged in ways it didn’t seem possible. All this resulted in an unprecedented 85% turn out. Now compare that democratic process to the backroom stitch up we face in Yorkshire.
It’s not too late to push for the best option for Yorkshire and its people. An option which has been tried and tested in other parts of the UK – a directly elected, accountable and transparent assembly or parliament. After all Yorkshire does have recognisable boundaries going back over a thousand years. It has a real sense of identity and it has a population of five million people, the same as Scotland and several very successful European countries. However, in going down this route of a parliament we do not have to replicate Westminster in York. Indeed we would start with a blank sheet of paper as to how we might do our politics in a way that is fit for the 21st century.
There is a lot that is immediately obvious when it comes to avoiding the worst elements of the Westminster. For example, a Yorkshire parliament should be a single chamber (there would be no upper house), proper scrutiny committees giving backbenchers jobs to do in the parliament itself and thus reducing the opportunity to take on second jobs and there would be a fair voting system to reflect who the people want to represent them. In addition, this fair voting system should be extended to local councils too so no more one party rotten boroughs.
We could do even more to make our parliament even more inclusive. For example, we could extend the vote to 16 and 17 year olds. We could even draw some of our representatives by lots such as we do with juries and which would reduce over-representation of politically active groups. Yorkshire First also wants to see more public involvement through the use of citizen’s initiatives, referendums and other forms of participation
People will say we don’t more politicians. Well I would say we don’t want more out of touch Westminster MPs who come with the baggage of flipping second homes, false accounting and duck houses. It’s no coincidence that before the General Election in May, three of the four most popular UK politicians were Alec Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson. All local politicians close to the communities they represent and not MPs at the time.
The current devolution process in Yorkshire has been dominated by how it will help our economy. There is nothing wrong with that of course but it could be so much more. We have a once in a generation opportunity to revitalise our democracy and engage the people of Yorkshire in the process. It’s still possible if the people make their voices heard.
From the Local Government Chronicle – Jon Trickett threatens the proposed devolution settlement. Interestingly, he will ‘launch a constitutional convention with other parties’. Whether this is merely a device for kicking the devolution idea into the long grass remains to be seen but at least Jon Trickett has been consistently in favour of a Yorkshire wide settlement in the past. Of course, this line of attack puts him at odds with Labour local council leaders who have signed up to Osborne’s plans. Would they be convinced to drop their commitment to Tory plans and wait for the outcome of any constitutional convention? Unlikely…
Labour split by Trickett’s failure to support devolution bill
A divide has emerged between Labour’s frontbench and some of its own backbenchers over the party’s failure to support the government’s flagship devolution legislation.
In a debate about the second reading of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill this afternoon, shadow communities secretary Jon Trickett rejected the bill’s provisions, demanding instead a “wholesale” national devolution settlement which did not impose elected mayors on areas without referenda.
The debate was occurring after overwhelmingly Labour-controlled councils in Greater Manchester and Sheffield signed landmark devolution deals with the government, in which they backed elected mayors in exchange for additional powers. Their counterparts in the north east and Teesside are expected to soon agree deals with ministers.
In reference to communities secretary Greg Clark, Mr Trickett said: “Unlike him we would devolve in a bottom up, not a top-down manner.”
Mr Trickett said: “We will launch a constitutional convention with other parties to try to reach out to every village, town hall and city hall across the country to test the arguments about a new settlement for Britain.”
His speech led to Clive Betts, the Labour MP for Sheffield South East, to ask him whether he accepted that “it’s not our party’s position to stand in the way of devolution deals to places like Sheffield, Greater Manchester and elsewhere?”.
Later in the debate, Mr Betts, also chair of the Commons communities and local government committee, said: “While there are disagreements about the pace of devolution the direction of travel is absolutely given, credit must be given to the government and the secretary of state for driving this agenda forwards.
“There probably never was a chance of getting a big bang across the board settlement.”
Graham Stringer, Labour MP for Blackley and Broughton, said: “I welcome very strongly this bill – it’s an enabling bill that allows negotiations between local authorities and central government. It brings about the beginning of the end of centralisation in this country.”
He described Labour’s failure to devolve over the years as a “sin of omission”.
Speaking after the debate, Alexandra Jones, chief executive of Centre for Cities, said: “If this bill fails to pass, it will be a major setback to cities and regions across the UK and to the prospects of long-term growth in the national economy, and won’t prevent further spending cuts.
“No bill is perfect, but this offers a historic opportunity to reverse decades of centralisation in the UK by making it possible for cities and regions to have more power over decisions about local housing, transport and investment.
“Local leaders across the country – Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat – have been working tirelessly with the Government over the past year to agree devolution deals that will support local economic growth, but all those efforts will come to nothing unless the bill is passed.
“MPs who oppose the bill should be clear that this is not a debate about the government’s spending plans or about how the bill is enacted. Voting against the bill will not prevent further spending cuts, but it will deny cities and regions across the UK the chance to boost jobs growth and benefit from more localised decision-making.”
Two significant developments in recent days, each of varying importance to the devolution debate. Firstly, David Cameron’s unguarded comments caught on microphone and secondly, the election to the leadership of the Labour party of Jeremy Corbyn.
As YDM was penning a blog piece in response to David Cameron’s (jokey?) assertion that the people of Yorkshire hate each other as much as they hate the world, columnist GP Taylor in today’s Yorkshire Post beat us to it. In his excellent piece he explains why the competing bids from local authorities – in regard to a devolution settlement – suggest why, to outsiders, relations within Yorkshire seem acrimonious. He draws the inevitable conclusion that a Yorkshire assembly is the best option: ‘Yorkshire is a distinct region with its own culture and customs. It should therefore be granted its own assembly and be self determining in matters of finance, education, policing and welfare.’ We, at YDM, would agree with that!
With regards to the election of a new Labour leader and its significance to the debate on devolution to Yorkshire, more later. It’s fair to say in the meantime, that Jeremy Corbyn has never unambiguously supported the idea of a Yorkshire assembly or parliament, rather he prefers to see some sort of constitutional convention for the North. What is encouraging though, is his appointment of Hemsworth MP Jon Trickett as Shadow Minister for Communities and Local Government, who will have responsibility for devolution. The Yorkshire Post reported him as saying, in July: ‘In my view it is time to establish a single voice for Yorkshire to speak powerfully for our wonderful county.’ He also dismissed the idea of a Mayor for Yorkshire instead ‘suggested the region should be aiming for a “full scale devolved administration”‘. Not much ambiguity in that statement and YDM wish him well in convincing the Shadow Cabinet, but more importantly, his party colleagues who lead councils across Yorkshire, that a Yorkshire parliament is the most obvious way forwards.
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.email@example.com 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