Public Consultation on Yorkshire Governance
It was Richard Carter, now leader of Yorkshire First, who first suggested a Yorkshire Conversation a couple of years ago. The idea was to involve as many interests, communities and individuals as possible in formulating:-
“an agreed vision for Yorkshire to achieve our potential within the UK;
political and community commitment to finding a governing solution that works for the people of Yorkshire at both regional and local level;
involvement of the people of Yorkshire as active citizens and not just consumers of services.
The form, make up and terms of reference of this conversation should be decided by the participants to secure involvement of a broad spectrum of stakeholders.”
So the idea was pure people power, public consultation at its best. The Yorkshire Conversation was influenced by the Scottish Constitutional Convention but with very much a Yorkshire First slant. The idea of a constitutional convention was not unique to Yorkshire. The Labour Party adopted a similar policy for the English regions at the last election.
The key problem with the “conversation” was that nobody really took ownership. The YDM made approaches to leaders of local authorities in order to float the idea but by this time the government plans for devolution were already in full swing and the timetable did not include any provision (or budgets) for wider public consultation so positive responses were not forthcoming. Most of the stakeholders are probably unaware that there is anything to be consulted about in terms of Yorkshire devolution.
The situation as it stands is that the current devolution proposals are going forward; not imposed by the government, you must understand but being actively sought by local authority leaders; without any wider public consultation. It is not clear that the implications of the current proposals are fully understood by all stakeholders. In the absence of any public consultation, the next test of public opinion will be the local government elections in 2016.
The Yorkshire Conversation was (and still is) a good idea in principle but it never really got off the ground. The lack of wider public consultation on the current proposals is, however, highly dangerous and local authority leaders will have to live with the consequences. A public consultation exercise on the future governance of Yorkshire is still relevant but to be meaningful key stakeholders must take ownership and the outcomes must be taken into consideration in future plans. It would be pointless to consult the people if the powers that be are simply going to ignore their wishes.