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One Yorkshire row exposes the lie of bottom up devolution

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LGC’s essential daily commentary 

 

The reasoning surrounding the communities secretary’s decision to reject the One Yorkshire devolution bid gives lie to the government’s claim to support bottom up proposals.

The correspondence rejecting the bid was sent to Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis (Lab) yesterday, copying in the 18 council leaders supporting One Yorkshire in a move that was felt by many to be somewhat discourteous. The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government’s press releasing of extracts from it a few hours later was viewed even less favourably.

The letter said the bid did not meet the government’s devolution criteria. These criteria have never been spelt out in detail, despite the promise in the Conservative party’s 2017 manifesto of a devolution framework. They are generally understood to refer to a deal needing to cover a functioning economic area – a term used in planning and economics to refer to the operation of markets and travel to work areas – and to include suitable governance arrangements in the form of an elected mayor.

In an interview on BBC Radio Leeds yesterday, Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry said the Treasury did not recognise Yorkshire as a functioning economic area.

Certainly this position is supported by the economics, Yorkshire is vast, stretching almost the entire breadth of the country, from Sheffield in the south to the seaside village of Staithes, more than 100 miles north.

The One Yorkshire bid recognises this and proposes to operate on a principle of subsidiarity where decisions are taken at the most appropriate level, with the mayor setting a strategic direction. The bid argues what it is more important that Yorkshire has a recognisable brand internationally and strong sense of identity among its people, a functioning political area if you will.

The importance of economics versus politics in creating successful devolved arrangements is a valid debate. However, examples from elsewhere suggest the government’s position on this issue is more fluid when required. Its support for the North of Tyne deal, for example, despite the home of the area’s Metro hub Gateshead MBC pulling out, and its previous preparedness to back a single deal for the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. Indeed a cynic might suggest the absence of a devolution framework allows the government precisely this flexibility if it so wishes.

Mr Brokenshire’s letter said the government was “prepared to begin discussions about a different, localist approach to devolution in Yorkshire”.

He wrote: “We know there is local appetite for other devolution elsewhere in Yorkshire, with representations having been made previously by the Leeds City Region, York and North Yorkshire and the Humber Estuary.”

Mr Brokenshire has been in the job for less than 10 months so perhaps he can be forgiven for not recalling exactly what went down in relation to these deals. Mr Berry’s interpretation of events, as told to BBC Radio Leeds, would also seem to be at odds with that of local leaders. Mr Berry said of the lack of a deal for the Leeds City Region: “[it] hasn’t been government that has delayed it, it’s been the refusal of local authorities to get on with it”.

A quick refresher then: York, along with the North Yorkshire districts of Harrogate, Craven and Selby, are members of the Leeds City Region, which it is agreed is a functioning economic area.

The Leeds City Region devolution bid was rejected by government in April 2017 on the grounds it did not have “local stakeholder” support.

This followed North Yorkshire CC’s objection to handing over any transport powers in relation to its districts while some local Conservative MPs were also said to have been opposed to a deal on the geography of the Leeds City Region as it would make it likely a Labour mayor would be elected.

A separate bid for York, North Yorkshire and the East Riding never really got beyond the talking stage. Hull City Council, the heart of the Humber estuary, was not involved in any serious devolution bid prior to One Yorkshire while across the river North East Lincolnshire Council was working with Lincolnshire CC.

In April 2017 LGC reported Yorkshire had been sent back to the drawing board by Sajid Javid. Almost two years later and a new communities secretary has effectively told the councils involved to do the same. It seems, as far as the government is concerned, they still haven’t come up with the right answer.

Mr Brokenshire’s comments about local appetite, sound more like a prescription for what the government would like to see. 

Sarah Calkin, deputy editor

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Exactly - but we don't know what the govt want to see and neither do they!

    Transparent criteria wouldn't help them either as that would involve actually taking a decision on something - despite the commitment in the manifesto (and indeed the MHCLG single departmental plan - which no select committee has called the dept to account on for failure to deliver).

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