The highly centralised government in England has not exactly worked in Yorkshire’s favour over the years. The lion’s share of public spending gravitates towards London and the South East leaving Yorkshire and some of the other regions of England as the poor relations. The Barnett Formula and the existence of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish devolved administrations protects, to some extent, the public sector budgets of those countries whilst leaving those of Yorkshire and some of the other English regions even more exposed.
Unlike in London, there is no regional administration in Yorkshire. Yorkshire Forward used to be the Regional Development Agency for Yorkshire and Humberside but this is now no more so, in effect, Yorkshire has no representation at the regional level. There is no regional transport strategy, no regional energy strategy, no regional industrial and economic strategy; in fact, it is probably fair to say that there is no regional strategy at all. There is no one voice to speak out for Yorkshire.
Yorkshire tends to lose out in terms of public sector investment. Key spending decisions are made in either Westminster or Whitehall and most capital projects are micro-managed from Whitehall. Many Yorkshire projects simply never get approved in the first place. Failure to invest in Yorkshire has meant that the Yorkshire economy has under-performed for many years. Our transport infrastructure is creaking and unless urgent action is taken on this and on many other issues; now! not at some future time when it might better suit the government; Yorkshire will fall even further behind and will not be in any position to contribute to the Northern Powerhouse initiative. We estimate that, in order to bridge the North/South divide, the shortfall on public sector capital spending in Yorkshire will need to be made good at the rate of £10BN per year for the next 10 years, in other words around £100BN over the next 10 years. This should do no more than bring us into line with London.
Current devolution proposals involving city regions are restricted to limited powers over specific topics and the sums involved are relatively tiny. This will do no more than scratch the surface. They will not address the imbalance at all. In addition, as many of the issues that need to be tackled cover the region as a whole, these will be outside the scope of individual city regions as they do not have the scope, scale or resources to address these problems. Add to this the continuing financial pressures on council budgets and the future of the city region concept looks bleak.
From our research, it is apparent that many issues such as policing, health, education, transport and industrial and economic policy would be better dealt with at the regional level. A regional administration would be much more logical than the current proposals of combined authorities, city regions, quangos, councils etc. but the government refuses to see this. The current devolution proposals have not been subject to proper public consultation or any kind of democratic endorsement. The idea of metro mayors was rejected by several cities in the referendums of 2012. Current devolution proposals will do nothing to improve democracy and public accountability. The current electoral system at both national and local level is biased and unrepresentative and the current devolution proposals could make it even worse.
Because Yorkshire does not have a central administration and does not speak with one voice, the government seems to think that it can chop and change the boundaries of the county as it sees fit. This happened in 1974 and now we are faced with further significant changes, a considerable price to pay for no apparent gain. Our civic leaders do us no favours by apparently being unable to speak for the county as a whole. We do not believe that either the government or our “civic leaders” have a proper mandate to enact the changes that are being proposed.