CBI warns Yorkshire politicians: ‘devolution is not about moving local authority deckchairs’

John Cridland
John Cridland
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THE Confederation of British Industry has fired a warning shot at local politicians arguing over the devolution of spending powers from London to Yorkshire.

John Cridland, director general of the business lobby group, said there is too much focus on structures and boundaries and not enough on making lives better and helping businesses to become more successful.

He said: “I don’t think it is about moving local authority deckchairs... We need to focus on empowerment that makes a difference.”

Mr Cridland made the comments at the CBI’s annual dinner for Yorkshire and Humber in Leeds Town Hall on Thursday night.

In his address, Phil Jones, the regional chairman, said: “I suspect the Prime Minister was probably only joking when he said Yorkshire people hated each other.

“Maybe he knew he was being overhard and was being smart. It does seem to me whether he knew it or not, it was a true word being spoken in jest.

“We have got to be willing to accept that there is a perception and a possibility that local politics may get in the way of regional progress.

“As a business community we have got to be prepared to think clearly, speak clearly and take a stand, even if that is unpopular in some quarters, to say that what is right for the region might not be right for the different situations that have existed so far.”

Mr Jones is the president and chief executive of Northern Powergrid, an electricity infrastructure firm owned by US billionare Warren Buffett.

Mr Jones said the economy of the area covered by the so-called Northern Powerhouse is larger than the devolved regions put together.

“Yet we are still trying to figure out exactly what configuration we should be in and I’m not just criticising those involved, I have to say business needs to get its act together quickly,” he added.

At the present rate, Yorkshire could end up split into three or four different economic entities in the ongoing talks to devolve powers from Whitehall to the region.

Council and business leaders in the Sheffield City Region signed a £900m devolution agreement at the start of the month. Politicians in West Yorkshire last week reiterated their commitment to a deal for the Leeds City Region rather than a larger geography adding North Yorkshire and Humberside.

Mr Jones said: “Congratulations to the folk in Sheffield who have got their deal over the line. The reality is that means there can’t be a deal that encompasses all of Yorkshire.

“We ask as a business community that the leaders involved in that keep in mind the ultimate destination of a large economically viable region... whether there are two three, I couldn’t care less how many mayors there are.

“Ideally one big region that carries the clout that Yorkshire and Humber deserve to carry needs to be the objective.”

Mr Jones acknowledged the view that devolution is a political stunt designed to divert blame for forthcoming spending cuts from central to local government.

He said: “There are people who think that and they are entitled to their point of view. Some of it may even be true.

“My concern is we could make that a self-fulfilling prophecy if we are not careful.”

Mr Jones added: “I don’t see how we dare risk doing nothing. I am not saying I have a business case. I am just mindful of the unspoken attitude of ‘blessed is he who expects nothing for he shall not be disappointed’.”