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A Devolved Yorkshire Parliament and the Question of Cost

February 4, 2014

One of the most commonly raised points in the debate on whether Yorkshire should or should not have her own devolved parliament is the question of cost – but is the right question of cost being asked?

It is understandable that the first concerns people have when considering the prospect of change are the most immediate impacts that that change would have. As there is no Yorkshire parliament at the moment, the cost of establishing one will undoubtedly be amongst the most immediate impacts and therefore it is understandable that cost is one of the first concerns of the Yorkshire people. However, a devolved Yorkshire Parliament would not be a short-term project. Looking beyond the immediate impacts is therefore required in order to reach a reasonable and meaningful conclusion of its worth.

Paying for ‘An extra layer of bureaucracy’ and ‘More MPs’ are often voiced concerns in the debate on creating a Yorkshire Parliament, but would any costs involved necessarily mean ‘additional costs’ simply because they are new ones? If everything else remained the same, that might seem a reasonable conclusion! However, the introduction of regional parliaments would mean the restructuring of the whole system of government and in that restructuring there is plenty of scope for any new costs to be off-set by cost savings. For example, a commissioned review of local government organisation in Wales recently concluded that the number of principal areas in Wales should be halved to no more than 12, yet Yorkshire has a slightly smaller land-mass than Wales but currently has more than 30 local authorities! Also, like the UK is represented in the European Parliament by only a ninth of the number of MPs that there are in the UK Parliament, with regional matters being dealt with in their respective regions, would not only a similar fraction of Yorkshire MPs be necessary in Westminster?

The foregoing are just examples which demonstrate that any ‘new costs’ involved can be off-set by sensible planning and implementation but there is more to consider here. What of the social, economic and environmental benefits that could be enjoyed by the Yorkshire people through a devolved Yorkshire Parliament?

Prescott’s project for regional assemblies in 2004 was de-railed before Yorkshire had opportunity to vote because the pilot referendum in the North-East rejected the idea. There are several reasons for this including voters from outside Newcastle objecting to being governed from Newcastle and the devolved powers on offer at the time being perceived as worthless but perhaps the biggest reason is that voters knew very little of devolution. To poll ‘YES’ back then was like voting to take a step into the unknown! Now, however, that is not the case. Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London have enjoyed devolved parliaments or assemblies for some time and the social, economic and environmental benefits they have succeeded in bringing to their respective populations compared to the non-devolved parts of the UK is now clear for all to see!

Examples of the disparity mentioned above can be found in the figures of the Office for National Statistics. Amongst them they show that between 1997 and 2011, the ONLY parts of the UK to enjoy growth in terms of Gross Disposable Income were London, Scotland, Northern Ireland & Wales, or in a nut-shell, ALL the devolved parts of the UK! Whilst the 2011 index for every other part of the UK fell from their 1997 figure, Londoners gained around 7 points, Scots 3 points, Northern Irish 2 points and Welsh 1 point. Not only is this comparison stark on face value but even more so on looking deeper into the situation:

‘Disposable income’ is money available to spend after the deduction of taxes that fund things like devolved parliaments and their MPs. The people of Yorkshire do not have a devolved parliament of their own yet they have less income left after paying taxes than those who do have devolved parliaments. It can therefore be interpreted that Yorkshire is either paying taxes to fund devolved parliaments from which Yorkshire gains no benefit or, simply, that people are far better off under a devolved parliament. Either way, Yorkshire is losing out on the things that matter most by continuing to have decisions made by non-Yorkshire MPs in Westminster instead of by Yorkshire MPs in Yorkshire!

In summary: The immediate costs of a devolved Yorkshire Parliament can be off-set and we have to look no further than the already devolved parts of the UK to see the social, economic and environmental benefits Yorkshire is losing out on by not having a devolved parliament of her own. Compare this to the situation in which Yorkshire finds itself under Westminster where Yorkshire has suffered years of under-investment, has one of the worst unemployment statistics in the UK, is in desperate need of improved transport and infrastructure and is slowly being strangled by Scotland and London by being unable to compete for inward investment!

So is the right question being asked regarding costs? Should the Yorkshire people continue to consider the costs of having a Devolved Yorkshire Parliament or should, instead, they be asking, “Can we afford the costs of NOT having a Devolved Yorkshire Parliament?”

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