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YDM Opinion Survey on Devolution Proposals

21 September, 2016

The Yorkshire Devolution Movement recently commissioned a survey to try to ascertain the level of awareness that people have of the current devolution proposals and their preferences, if any, for the forms of devolution that could be available. The survey was carried out on our behalf in early August by Survation Ltd with the financial support of a grant from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, for which we would like to express our appreciation. The findings were based on a representative sample of 1,003 people in Yorkshire.

Two questions were asked:- 1. On a scale of 1 to 10, where 0 = not at all informed and 10 = very well informed, how well informed would you say you are of the devolution plans for Yorkshire? And 2. Which of the following types of devolution would you most like to see in Yorkshire:- i. devolution only to city regions with directly elected mayors, ii. a directly elected Yorkshire parliament with similar powers to the Scottish Parliament or Welsh Assembly, or iii. no devolution at all/maintain the status quo?

The findings for question 1 show that 54.8% of respondents feel not at all informed whereas only 1.9% consider themselves very well informed. Those who feel that they have some knowledge (2-4 on the scale of 1 to 10) come in at 19.1%. Those who feel that they have a reasonable knowledge (5-9 on the scale of 1 to 10) come in at 24.2%.

The findings for question 2 show that 12.5% of the respondents favour devolution only to city regions with elected mayors; 17.6% favour devolution to a directly elected Yorkshire parliament with similar powers to the Scottish Parliament or Welsh Assembly; 38.4% favour no devolution at all; 2.9% would like something else and 28.5% don’t know.

Areas of concern for the YDM must be that so few people feel well informed about the proposals, less than 2%, whereas nearly 55% don’t feel informed at all. This apparent lack of engagement must also be a key area of concern for all the councils and for the political parties. If people do not feel engaged in political processes which directly affect their daily lives, then there is a risk of disaffection setting in which could ultimately pose a threat to our governmental processes. A lack of effective debate on the proposals and the lack of an opportunity to exercise a form of democratic choice may well be partly to blame for this situation but it needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency if our civic leaders are to retain any credibility.

A second area of concern is that while devolution has the potential to offer very real benefits to the public at large and to enterprise in general, the survey indicates that the public are either not aware of this or do not agree that these benefits exist or can be realised through devolution. Only 30.1% of respondents agree with the two forms of devolution proposed in the questions. I suppose we can take solace that 17.6% favour a Yorkshire parliament but an approval rating of 12.5% for the city region proposal ought to sound alarm bells in those institutions. 38.4% not in favour of devolution and 28.5% don’t knows gives a total of 66.9% not committed in one way or another to any form of devolution. There may be some correlation between this percentage figure and the percentage that feel uninformed but this has to be a huge concern for us because obviously our message about the advantages of devolution is quite simply not getting through to a major percentage of our target audience. Again the arguments around engagement also apply to this aspect of the survey.

For me there are two lessons for the YDM here, our engagement and communications strategies both need revisiting as a matter of urgency. There are also messages for the wider political establishment. They need to engage with the people much more effectively as far as devolution is concerned and to try to implement what appears to be an unpopular policy without going through a full consultation and democratic approval process could be storing up trouble for the future. Evidently the Sheffield City Region Devolution Consultation exercise only solicited 245 responses and what is even more worrying is that the under 25 age group was hardly represented at all. The under 25 age group was reasonably well represented in our own survey though I believe there to be an unintentional bias towards the older generation.

A major consultation exercise on devolution between those proposing and those affected may be necessary but the questions around engagement must be solved first and especially as far as engagement with the younger generation is concerned. There is not much point in having a conversation if nobody turns up. As far as local and regional government is concerned, the status quo is really no longer an option. The synergies and more effective spending through local decision making around the application of available funding provided by devolution will be necessary to maintain an adequate level of public service. The choice must be between the logical model advocated by the YDM, of a regional government for Yorkshire based around subsidiarity, or the patchwork quilt provided by various levels of local authorities making up combined authorities which go to form city regions with all the complexities that these bring with them; and people wonder why the Treasury insists on elected mayors. The people must make this decision because their future depends on it.

RJH
21.09.2016

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