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From today’s Yorkshire Post ‘Give us the power to shape region’s destiny’

August 2, 2013

THE celebrations on Yorkshire Day yesterday showed just how proud the people of Yorkshire are of their own county. Probably no other part of England, aside from Cornwall, has quite the same sense of distinctiveness and individuality. 

 

Yorkshire is an identifiable community with broadly definable borders going back hundreds of years. It has an incredibly diverse landscape, history and culture. Its people are seen as trustworthy, honest and blunt speaking.

Yorkshire has 10 universities, a broad manufacturing base, a thriving services sector, tourism, farming, fishing, dales, moors, wolds, minsters (including one of the great cathedrals of Europe), cities, market towns, villages, ports, beaches, cliffs and rivers.

It has been the home of some of the greatest writers in the English language. Its inventions have made an impact across the world. It was the original base to some of the greatest companies in Britain. It has a huge sporting heritage (for example, finishing 12th in the 2012 Olympics medal count thanks to Jessica Ennis-Hill and others). It has a population of five million people, almost identical to that of Scotland and broadly in the same range as the Nordic states of Finland, Denmark and Norway. It has a flag, an emblem and a civic day. In short (and I am not the first to coin this phrase), Yorkshire is a country in miniature.

However, despite that diversity, industriousness and sense of community, Yorkshire (along with the Humber), across almost all indices, performs badly against the national average. Whether it is the unemployment rate, productivity, house prices, levels of smoking and drinking, Yorkshire performs very badly. Yorkshire has the second lowest rate of construction in the UK and the region is 10th out of 12 regions for attracting inward investment from larger private sector companies. Frankly, both economic and social progress in Yorkshire over the past couple of generations has been pitiful as the region continues to be in the bottom two or three of all English regions against most measures. Something needs to change.

The successful bid for the opening stages of the Tour de France shows us what is possible for this extraordinary region. Tourism is one of the few matters where Yorkshire can speak with a relatively independent voice.

It was solely the voice of Yorkshire, as “Welcome to Yorkshire” had no assistance or support at all from central government in securing the opening stages of this prestigious sporting event. It was therefore Yorkshire determining its own destiny through its own efforts.

This should set a yardstick for other areas of investment, for example, in transport where Treasury figures show London enjoyed spending-per-head of £644 in the last financial year and Yorkshire just £251.

Other parts of the UK have been able to determine their own destiny for several years as the process of devolution has been continued: Scotland will be voting for independence in a year’s time; Wales, after a referendum in 2011, has enhanced law-making powers and London apparently thrives with its own assembly and Mayor. For Yorkshire, despite Lord Heseltine’s best efforts in urging more money to be spent to reduce the North-South divide, decision-making rests firmly with those in Westminster and Whitehall. No surprise then that many in Yorkshire are angry.

There are those who believe that just as Yorkshire has a distinct identity in the same way as Wales, Scotland and London, then it too should have powers to make decisions which put the interests of Yorkshire folk first. For example, the Yorkshire Devolution Movement was set up, bringing together people from all walks of life who want to put the case for Yorkshire to have greater decision making power in the county itself and to help provide the economic and social benefits which would come with that.

I have never really understood what successive governments have against letting communities decide what’s best for them. I can only assume it is a fear of letting go of power. Yet every government of the last 100 years has recognised that things are different in the North and different measures need to be applied. So, in Yorkshire, we have had regional development agencies, a Minister for Yorkshire, city regions, local enterprise partnerships, amongst a pot-pourri of other quangos and initiatives. Yet none have overturned the fundamental fault with the UK economy that it is too heavily weighted to London and the south-east.

What is needed is for policies made in Yorkshire and for Yorkshire that would re-balance the UK economy and which at the same time would help to unleash the amazing potential we have here. In short, greater self-rule for Yorkshire!

• Stewart Arnold is a former chairman of the Campaign for Yorkshire which campaigned for a regional parliament.

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3 Comments
  1. R C-H permalink

    I would be so proud if this idea ever took off. We have our own culture, dialect (which is looked down on and being lost), culture and Viking history… a population similar to Norway or New Zealand. Everything that makes a people into a seperate culture and country in everything but name.

    I am Yorkshire first… British second and I’d welcome the opportunity to work hard and get out what we put in. Westminster will not do that for us, so we should ask for the opportunity to do it for ourselves.

    Future Yorkshire Republic… God’s own Country!

  2. matt jones permalink

    Independence for Yorkshire? Hell, no. Leeds and Sheffield would hog all the benefits. What’s needed is independence for Scarborough – now that would give me a real say…except, of course, for those b******s on the South Cliff who vote Tory, so perhaps I’d better just settle for independence for me. But then who’ll pay my pension and healthcare bills and defend me when Putin wants to invade? Well obviously I’ll be counting on my fellow citizens from the rest of England. Joking aside, the solution to the UK’s ills does not lie in fragmentation and division. Britain is too focussed on London and some form of regional redistribution is undoubtedly necessary. But let’s not subdivide the country in the naive belief that another tier of government would make things better. Rather than a Yorkshire Assembly, I’d sooner see meaningful powers returned to the city and county councils – possibly with proportional representation to prevent the dominance of any single party. That would truly be local representation.

    p.s. I too come from Yorkshire, but I haven’t found the rest of England to be so different.

    • No need to fear Putin if Yorkshire goes it alone. I think even if Yorkshire had an advanced form of devolution (what might be called ‘devo max’), foreign policy, defence and macro-economic policy would remain with Westminster and Whitehall. You won’t be surprised that we would disagree with your point. Yorkshire is Yorkshire, i.e. it is an identifiable community and with a population of 5 Million people (the same as Scotland incidentally) has a critical mass to be successful in a lot more areas than it is currently. City regions are for places which don’t have the same sense of community as Yorkshire, say Manchester or Birmingham. After all when they gave devolution to Scotland it was to SCOTLAND not to the Edinburgh and Glasgow city regions. Would agree on PR though. Absolutely essential.

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