Words: Councillor Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council
As you may have recently seen I, along with 17 other council leaders and representatives from across the county, have signed up to the ‘One Yorkshire’ devolution proposal which has now been presented to the government to consider.
The proposal represents an unprecedented opportunity to transform the economy of our great county and the lives of the millions of people who live here, with the potential being vast for an economy which is already twice that of Wales and a population the same as Scotland.
As the biggest county in England, Yorkshire as a ‘brand’ is already well known around the world, for a wide range of reasons including the wonderful diversity of our landscapes and especially the determination of our people to ‘get stuck in’, work hard and achieve.
It is by celebrating and capitalising on the strength of that diversity in our communities and our economy that we are confident ‘One Yorkshire’ can and will work. One Yorkshire. One aim. One voice.
Working together side by side to drive forward and make things better for everyone in terms of quality of life, opportunities, jobs, learning, skills, housing, health, transport connectivity and leisure. We just need to be given the backing to get on and do it.
So what are we asking for ? Simply put, the resources and decision-making ability to invest where we know we need to invest, to build where we know we need to build, and to support where and in ways we know will make a difference. The chance to turn Yorkshire not only into a net contributor to UK plc but at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse and national economy, boldly welcoming and embracing the future through innovation, growth and change.
We’ve proved the knowledge, expertise and willingness is already here, so the time has come to consign centralisation and the phrase ‘Whitehall knows best’ firmly to the history books.
The ambitious proposal sets out plans to create an investment fund of more than £3.75billion for Yorkshire over 30 years in a gainshare revenue agreement with the government together with additional locally-raised finance. It would be supported by a secondary £500million Housing Investment Fund.
These funds would be invested across the county in new infrastructure, supporting regeneration, skills development, business support and job creation to deliver increased productivity and boosting growth and opportunities for everyone in Yorkshire.
A Yorkshire Mayor would be elected and in place in May 2020. We know there is no appetite for unnecessary new layers of political bureaucracy, so existing structures would be realigned into a Yorkshire Combined Authority, with our council leaders and representatives working with the new mayor on all key decisions and policy directions, with decisions wherever possible being taken by those with the direct knowledge representing our local communities.
There are those who say this cannot work, as Yorkshire is just too diverse with big cities on one side and our towns, villages, countryside and agricultural communities on the other. We say it is that diversity and variety of views which is the vital strength and asset which must be harnessed fully to achieve success.
We do have impressive recent history of this. For two unforgettable days in July 2014, Yorkshire came together as one for the Tour de France Grand Départ to show not only Britain but the world the spectacular results which can be achieved when we all pull together and strive to excel. That spirit remains. Yorkshire is ready and confident to take on the challenge.