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

June 11, 2015

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?

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One Comment
  1. Chris permalink

    Yorkshire has to long been ignored 5.5million people 7cities .A port an international airport ..a bigger gdp then wales .and twice the population.a bigger tourist industry then scotland and a bigger population then them .three massive national parks .our own flag our own language .we are a COUNTRY in waiting .we just need and demand a voice.northern powerhouse we are the powerhouse .so please listen london .or one day yorkshire first will be the new snp.as they say on star trek MAKE IT SO

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