Aisha Iqbal: Anyone for a Yorkshire devolution referendum?

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I learnt something fascinating this week about the nonsense of Government red tape and how it can impact on our everyday lives.

If a car breaks down on a major route in Leeds - and we know the traffic nightmare that ensues whenever that happens - the council has virtually no power to get it moved and get the city going again.

Instead, a phone call has to be made to the relevant office in Whitehall, and a civil servant has to issue a special traffic order.

If that’s not a perfect example why devolved powers are a good thing, I don’t know what is.

Transport has long been a bugbear for both city leaders and the public at large in Leeds, with the common thread of discussion being the need for more local decision-making powers to get to grips with the issue.

And this week, as we celebrated Yorkshire Day, there were renewed hopes that a ‘One Yorkshire’ type deal - with (most of) the county united behind the idea of some sort of collective bid for regional autonomy - may eventually be forthcoming.

Time will tell if this particular version of the devolution dream will become a reality, or whether it’s another pie in the sky ideal.

But cutting through the nonsensical red tape mountain at central Government level would be a great start.

At a recent meeting at Leeds Civic Hall, a very senior council officer recalled time spent as a civil servant at Whitehall when he would get certain very localised types of questions on his desk.

“I can guarantee you that nobody down there has a clue about the local issues,” he admitted.

“You ask two questions - what do the council think, and what does the local MP think. And then you generally take a view. If you are going to ask that question, why not just give the role to the council?”

The Government comes across like a control freak line manager whose insistence on micro-managing every tiny detail of every part of the country risks hampering progress and genuine opportunity.

It’s time for London to let go some of that iron grip and allow us to flourish.

It was interesting to note that just two weeks before the Yorkshire leaders got together to bash out the specifics of the renewed ‘One Yorkshire’ push, current Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry had issued his own warning about the prospects of a full Yorkshire deal, stressing that as far as he is concerned, devolution is about cities. Not particularly encouraging.

But the Leeds City Region deal only floundered because of some Conservative MPs blocking the idea.

In the meantime, many Labour-led councils have been umming and aaahing for ages about what is effectively a ransom demand over elected mayors (‘you can’t have a devolved powers without agreeing to an elected mayor’). They have relented somewhat this week.

There’s no doubt that we are a city - and a county - with big ideas, and even bigger ambitions. That’s how it should be.

But the whole debate around devolution has been so marred by party politics and brinkmanship on issues like elected mayors, that it has unsurprisingly left some people questioning the validity of the whole exercise.

In a way the word devolution itself is a bit of a misnomer anyway. What we actually need is decentralization.

It’s often been said that we are the most centralized country in Europe.

But we made the landmark collective decision last year to extricate ourselves from the EU red tape mountain. Perhaps it’s time we started showing our teeth closer to home.

Anyone for a Yorkshire devolution referendum?

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