Devolution in the Press
7 December, 2016
There have been several articles in the press recently on devolution for Yorkshire, some of which have played a blame game regarding who may or may not be at fault for Yorkshire not having achieved either a Greater Yorkshire Devolution Deal or deals around some of the so-called city regions. To my knowledge, none of these articles has fully explained the pros and cons (advantages and disadvantages) of the devolution deals currently on offer or what the public might be expected to gain from devolution. Nor have the writers sought to explain why it is considered so important that urban areas be given priority for extra funding and more powers. I am not sure why some of the writers appear to think that there is no real need to involve the public in the devolution debate. Then there is the requirement for regions seeking more powers to have elected mayors which, on the face of it, appears to cause problems of accountability and responsibility for some people. On the other hand, there have also been some really useful articles which have been pretty positive and have put forward some really interesting ideas which, in some respects, take the debate to a whole new level.
Has anybody even considered that one of the key problems with devolution may be that the current local government structure with additional layers of LEPs, city regions and combined authorities placed on top of it is so complex that it actually impedes the process of devolution. Elected mayors appear to be necessary because even the Treasury apparently cannot make sense of who controls what.
Yorkshire is a defined region so it would appear to make sense that, if you are going to devolve powers which are regional in nature, i.e. best controlled by a regional entity, then you should devolve these to the natural regional entity. The problem, as I see it, is that Yorkshire has not had an administration in its own right for a great many years (probably since it became part of England) so there is no natural administration to take on these powers. The obvious answer, therefore, is to create one. This does not mean creating an additional tier of bureaucracy because we need to look at how the administration would operate from both the bottom up and top down. Thus, we would create a new local government structure which should be based on sound logic and proven administrative processes. Some existing tiers of government, quangos, etc. would simply be swept away as there would be no roles for them.
James Reed was on the button when he said in his article “No, you can’t take the politics out of leading our region” in Saturday’s (3rd Dec 2016) edition of the Yorkshire Post “After more than a decade of writing about underinvestment in transport, Yorkshire’s deficit on educational standards and skills, the cost of rural services, its entrepreneurship challenge and many other issues, I am more convinced than ever that the answers lie in this region having a much bigger say in how taxes are raised and where they are spent and taking responsibility for the outcome rather than engaging in an endless blame game with London.”
In my opinion the answer to the devolution dilemma for Yorkshire in the longer term is not devolution but a Yorkshire Regional Parliament and a system of local administration based around the principle of subsidiarity whereby issues are dealt with at the most local level that is capable of addressing these matters effectively. This cannot be achieved immediately because currently no such offer is on the table. It may be that we have to accept in some measure what is currently on offer. If the best we can get out of this is a Yorkshire mayor presiding over some sort of combined Yorkshire authority, then so be it. This is unlikely to be fully effective as it is unlikely to have any real powers but it could be the first step on the way to a fully fledged Yorkshire administration.
Again, James Reed was right when he said “If, as it seems determined to, the Government insists that elected mayors are the price for Yorkshire devolution, then we should make them jobs worth doing, with real powers to tackle the longstanding obstacles to the region achieving its potential and carried out by people equipped for the job.”
The problem could be finding people willing to do such a high profile job where the powers and the funding are insufficient to get the job done and where you would be expected to provide leadership for the community as a whole. In Yorkshire the job would be even more demanding as the holder would be expected to take the region forward. The usual apparatchiks simply would not be up to the task.
From the YDM perspective, it is interesting to note the level of press coverage for Yorkshire devolution. It just shows how far the “devolution movement” has come in a few short years. It is also gratifying to see such constructive ideas being put forward. The current devolution proposals may not be adequate but they may provide a vehicle for the solution that Yorkshire needs. In the meantime, we believe that the public need to be involved in any discussions around the future form that government within the region might take. The first tentative steps towards a Yorkshire conversation are being taken. Such a process has to be inclusive but it can only work if people get involved. It would also help if elected officials deemed it appropriate to consult the electorate on such matters.