YORKSHIRE is falling behind Manchester and the West Midlands in the battle to attract devolved powers and investment because it lacks an elected mayor, according to the regional head of a business group.
Jonathan Oxley, the chairman of the Institute of Directors in Yorkshire and the Humber, said that a Yorkshire mayor, or series of mayors, could lobby for tax incentives to be trialled in the region which could attract hi-tech firms.
Mr Oxley is the latest business leader to express concerns that Yorkshire’s failure to have an equivalent of the Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham could harm its economic performance in the long term.
Mr Oxley told The Yorkshire Post: “The new Government, after the election on June 8, needs to set the conditions for economic growth in Yorkshire and the Humber, the wider Northern Powerhouse and other UK regions.
“We should also be under no illusions that regional growth is a collegiate or collaborative exercise. The major cities and regions of the UK are in competition. Is our region winning that competition?
“Following the elections of impressive individuals as metro mayors for Manchester and Birmingham, it’s hard to escape the preliminary conclusion that, at what is still an early stage in the race, we are at best coming third.”
A single figurehead must be an advantage in terms of communicating with Government, said Mr Oxley.
He added: “While the effective powers of new mayors outside of London are still at an embryonic stage, comparisons with similar leaders in the US would suggest that they can be instrumental in smoothing the way for major projects and reconciling competing local interests.
“The Government needs to set out a clearer framework for devolved government generally, including the mayoral role and that of the local enterprise partnerships. While one size does not necessarily fit all – and our region likes to think it is a very special case – this framework needs to be spelled out for the nation’s key regions so that they can stop discussing what it should look like and get on with doing it.”
Mr Oxley said the IoD is campaigning for an enhanced version of SEIS, the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme, tax relief to be trialled in the North West.
He added: “SEIS, introduced in 2012, is the earlier stage counterpart of the longer established EIS and, because it relates to investments in younger and higher risk businesses it qualifies for higher tax reliefs, including a set-off of 50 per cent of the amount invested against income tax liabilities.
“Well over a half of SEIS and EIS qualifying investment goes into high tech and business services companies. These are the kind of companies that could rapidly make a major contribution to growing our economy.
“In the most recent years for which statistics are available, over 65 per cent of SEIS and EIS investment went into companies in the south east.
“Yorkshire and the Humber attracted less than half of the amount of investment that went into companies in the North West and the West Midlands. A mayor, or mayors, in our region could, amongst other things, be calling for these kind of tax incentives to be trialled here.
“The competition is tough, but it needs to be because it is not just about being able to stand shoulder to shoulder with other UK regions, it is about being good enough on a global stage.”
Mr Oxley said the region needed to work out how to get the foundations in place for the economic growth that will enable it to keep pace with its competitors, at home and abroad.