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Labour’s response to the devolution proposals is indistinct and how the party can reclaim it

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.

13th November, 2015 2:52 pm

town hall

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



We have a once in a generation opportunity to revitalise our democracy and engage the people of Yorkshire in the process

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.


Devolution – what the people of Yorkshire really want

9th November 2015

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Contact Tel:
07979 696 26507979 696 265

For immediate release, Monday 9th November 11:15
Statement from the Democracy Matters project
For more details visit

  • South Yorkshire citizens call for stronger devolution deal in UK’s first ever ‘Citizens’ Assembly’
  • Citizens vote in favour of Yorkshire & Humber regional assembly as best model of devolution, and call for substantially more powers to be held in Yorkshire
  • Assembly demonstrates citizens’ appetite for grappling with and deciding on complex constitutional issues. Members voice support for citizens in Yorkshire and other areas facing devolution deals to have opportunities for informed and deliberative debate of the kind Assemblies allow

Citizens in South Yorkshire have called for a much stronger devolution deal than the one currently on the table for the Sheffield region.

In the UK’s first ever Citizens’ Assembly, which concluded on Sunday evening (8th November), residents voted in favour of a Yorkshire-wide regional assembly as their preferred model of devolution, and called on local politicians to negotiate with the Government for a much more ambitious and democratic devolution deal.

Over two weekends of deliberation, the 31 participants – drawn as a broadly representative sample from Sheffield, Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster in response to an invitation by polling company YouGov – reached their conclusions through a deep process of engagement with the details of different potential devolution arrangements. The participants were given unique access to national and local experts to aid them in reaching their own conclusions on how South Yorkshire should be governed [for more detail see note 1]. The project has been closely followed by Sheffield City Council.

Participants voted by majority:

  1. for the Yorkshire & Humber area to form the basis for regional devolution
  2. for a directly elected regional assembly
  3. for stronger powers for the area to include some tax-setting and law-making powers, so there is real power in the area over issues such as transport infrastructure, economic development and education
  4. if asked to vote today, to reject the devolution deal currently on offer for the Sheffield City Region, but to press local politicians to push for a better deal (stronger, more ambitious, more democratic and based on proper consultation) rather than walk away

The project, entitled Democracy Matters [2], has been organised by the University of Sheffield, University of Southampton, University College London and University of Westminster, in conjunction with the Electoral Reform Society, and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) [3]. Sheffield is one of two pilot areas taking part in the experiment. In Southampton, citizens in a parallel Assembly for the Hampshire area will gather to reach their conclusions next weekend.

These Assemblies come in response to the sweeping constitutional changes currently facing the UK. In 2012, two out of three voters in Sheffield rejected the option of a directly elected mayor for the city, while in 2015, the City Region Combined Authority committed itself to public consultation on any new governance model.

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“As the Government seeks to devolve powers towards local areas, they need to include citizens and not simply deliver their chosen solutions from above. This Citizens’ Assembly has given local people the chance to come to the fore and shape the devolution agenda. Politicians should sit up and take note.

“The Assembly has been an exciting demonstration of the fact that people are more than capable of grappling with complex constitutional questions. By creating the space for citizens to inform themselves about the issues and debate with each other, the project has shown the potential for a new kind of democratic politics.”

Professor Matthew Flinders, Principal Investigator for the project, said:

“Assembly members preferred a ‘rego’ over a ‘devo’ deal for the future, but they also want a better deal in the here and now. If a vote on the current devolution deal had been held this past weekend, a two-thirds majority of Assembly members would have rejected it. Another vote showed strong opposition to an elected mayor.

“But corresponding votes revealed that Assembly members did not want their leaders to walk away from negotiations. It’s not that the Assembly members did not want devolution. What they want is genuine devolution with more powers and stronger accountability.

“It’s simply untrue that people do not care about politics and are disconnected from democracy. What these Assemblies show is that citizens are ready, willing and able to embrace rigorous democratic deliberation.”

Professor Will Jennings, Co-Investigator for the project, said:

“These Assemblies challenge the myth that people are disengaged from politics. When they are given the chance to assess a range of different positions and possibilities they do it with gusto. This marks an important contribution to the conversation about politics and democracy in this country.”


1.     The first weekend of the Sheffield Assembly in October was opened by Lord (David) Blunkett, who stressed the importance of local people having a say on the future of government in their area. The Chief Executive of Sheffield City Council John Mothersole took questions on the nature of the devolution deal that is currently on the table. Other advocates discussed more radical options for change. In response to members’ requests, the subsequent weekend included a presentation from Councillor Sir Steve Houghton CBE, leader of Barnsley Borough Council, urging the Assembly to embrace the model on offer (a mayor-led combined authority) and play a full part in consultation to be announced next month. In addition there were advocates of a Yorkshire Assembly, and an advocate of sticking to the existing council structure. The project is supported by local politicians including Angela Smith MP and Alan Whitehead MP (for other endorsements see

2.     The Citizens’ Assemblies are being conducted by Democracy Matters, a group of leading academics from the University of Sheffield, the University of Southampton, University College London, the University of Westminster and the Electoral Reform Society in a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. Research Directors from four Constitutional Conventions from countries outside the UK have acted as project advisers.Read the biographies of the project team here:

3.     The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government. In 2015 it celebrates its 50th anniversary.

For more information visit To arrange interviews or further comment contact Will Brett (07979 696 26507979 696 265 /


Labour split by Trickett’s failure to support devolution bill

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

14 October, 2015 | By Nick Golding

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.

Labour split by Trickett's failure to support devolution bill

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.”


Was David Cameron right about Yorkshire?

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.


There is no vehicle for testing public opinion on devolution George!

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 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.

London’s infrastructure scam continues

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.

*Passengers handled

Doncaster: 724,885

Humberside: 236,083 *2013 figures

Leeds: 3,274,474

Source: UK Civil Aviation Authority

Opinion: Ending the northern power cut

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.

Move over Northern Powerhouse – MPs make the case for a Yorkshire Powerhouse

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. [900036] 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?

Lack of policy cohesion may cost Lib Dems votes in Yorkshire

In response to the Lord Tyler piece on Liberal Democrat Voice, YDM Chair, Nigel Sollitt, posted this comment two days ago:

On 27th October 2010, Rt Hon David Blunkett MP asked the PM if he could think of one single reason why the people of Yorkshire should not determine their own priorities and one reason why they should not have their own White Rose Parliament. The PM failed to give Mr Blunkett any reason in either respect and I have yet to hear anyone give a response to what I call ‘the Sheffield Brightside & Hillsborough question’ that cannot be either defeated in argument or dismissed as rubbish! The truth of the matter is, if any part of the UK enjoys the benefit of determining their own priorities through their own devolved Parliament (or similar institution), there can be no reason why Yorkshire should not!
Like Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and Greater London, Yorkshire is a recognized territory defining a strong identity. Yorkshire has a larger land mass than Northern Ireland and Greater London combined, a larger population than Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales, a stronger economy than Northern Ireland and Wales in total and the potential, with devolution, to have a stronger economy than Scotland. In fact, on a worldwide scale, in terms of land mass, Yorkshire is larger than 91 countries and in terms of both population and economy, Yorkshire is pretty much on par with the Republic of Slovakia which beats 131 countries on population and is 62nd best on economy. Yet, despite all this, unlike Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and Greater London, Yorkshire has no devolved government in order to make its own decisions!
No part of the UK should enjoy greater devolution and democratic benefit than any other part yet in today’s UK there are seven tiers of this ranging from near devo-max in Scotland to ‘devo-lacks’ in Yorkshire and other regions! In between we have the varying levels of powers devolved to assemblies, mayors, city regions, LEPs and combined authorities. This imbalance can only be redressed by either reducing devolution to those who have more, increasing devolution to those who have less or a combination of both, and let’s face it, there is no way Scotland is going to be stripped of any powers it already enjoys! Scotland therefore sets the benchmark for the devolution and democratic benefit that must be distributed throughout the UK to achieve equality. That benchmark includes the powers devolved; the recognition of traditional boundaries and of the heritage, identity and loyalties of the people living within them; the standard of representation enjoyed by the people; the level of transparency and accountability offered to the people and the devolved institution most capable of delivering all those things, a directly elected parliament; all things for which the Yorkshire Devolution Movement has been campaigning over the last three years and of which we are determined to realize!
I have the greatest respect and admiration for Alisdair McGregor and his fellow Yorkshire Lib Dems; Alisdair for having the inspiration and commitment to drive the recent adoption, at regional level, of policy for a Yorkshire Parliament and Yorkshire Lib Dems for having the courage to adopt that policy despite having no backing from national level and despite their leader being committed to City Regions. I have similar respect and admiration for Lord Paul Tyler and Sir Nick Harvey who recently brought fresh thinking not only toward Lib Dem devolution policy at national level but to the major parties in general via their Centre Forum document, “A Devolution dialogue– Evolution or revolution?”. Particularly pleasing is that in both Lord Tyler’s proposal for devolution on demand to top tier institutions of regions with populations of at least one million and in Sir Nick Harvey’s proposal for regional governments and restructuring of local authorities, the Yorkshire Devolution Movement is acknowledged and Yorkshire is specifically cited to support their respective cases.
Lord Tyler says, “Then there are huge areas like Yorkshire, which (even without ‘the Humber’) numbers just under five million. There is a longstanding campaign for a Yorkshire Assembly/Parliament, which would certainly demand an Assembly under the Devolution Enabling Act the Liberal Democrat Conference has endorsed. Local government in each area could be a matter for that area, subject to Devolution Agreement to which all the authorities in the area had signed up at the outset.” He adds, “I agree, too, that while local leaders would necessarily take a lead, the process could and should include wider civic society. If the local County Council leaders in Yorkshire, were recalcitrant about a Yorkshire Assembly, they should be answerable at such a convention to the Yorkshire Devolution Movement.” He goes on to say, “The Yorkshire Devolution Movement, for example, is clear that they would retain councils beneath a new Yorkshire Assembly in order to devolve ‘powers to the least centralised authority capable of addressing…matters effectively within Yorkshire’. Sir Nick Harvey sums up, “Yorkshire (even without suborning part of Lincolnshire into ‘the Humber’) numbers just under five million. This is a much more credible basis for devolving serious power, Yorkshire has a strong identity and as Paul Tyler points out there is a campaign for a Yorkshire Assembly. Yorkshire would still need strong Local Governments underneath to represent its very different constituent parts, but like London it would be a good candidate for a first wave of our process.”
However, surely if Lib Dems were intent on adopting the establishment of a Yorkshire Parliament or Government as national policy, they would have said so at the same time as announcing their support for the establishment of a devolved assembly for Cornwall? They did not do so! In addition to this, a couple of weeks ago YDM asked the three Lib Dem MPs holding Yorkshire seats, Greg Mulholland, David Ward and Nick Clegg, where they stand in respect of a Yorkshire Parliament but NONE of them took the opportunity to express their commitment to the idea! Whilst the policies within the pages of the Lib Dem manifesto remain to be seen, this does not bode well for the establishment of a Yorkshire Parliament being amongst them! If it is not, where would this leave those to whom the matter is of great importance? With both Yorkshire First and Greens having clearly committed to this already, would Lib Dems run the risk of losing Yorkshire voters and members alike due to the apparent lack of cohesion on this issue between national and regional levels and between party leader and other key personnel? We await the manifesto with great interest!


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