Tom Richmond: Respect the region’s public – they won’t fall for this guff on Yorkshire devolution

Could local leaders scupper Yorkshire devolution?
Could local leaders scupper Yorkshire devolution?
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I’M coming to the conclusion that the biggest threat to the One Yorkshire devolution deal is, in fact, some of the 18 council leaders and chief executives advocating this approach.

Why? They keep forgetting that the most important people of all in this debate are not themselves, and their cushy job titles, but residents and taxpayers of this great county.

Public support is key. If they can demonstrate that there’s a groundswell of opinion in favour of a unified leadership approach, it will make it even harder for the Government to say no.

Yet I fear they’re not going about it the right way. Not only are local leaders mistakenly using West Yorkshire Combined Authority, a body with a questionable track record on transparency and use of public funds, as the conduit for their public pronouncements, but they’re intent on using increasingly impenetrable language.

Take this week’s development; namely the decision of 18 out of 20 councils (the exceptions being Sheffield and Rotherham) to meet on Monday and agree to submit their draft plans to the Government following constructive talks with Housing Secretary Sajid Javid days earlier.

Fine, but their plan has been written by bureaucrats for bureaucrats in terms that do not inspire and, in fact, make Theresa May’s Brexit negotiating strategy appear to be crystal clear in comparison.

Describing this as “an important first step”, it says a number of further steps will have to be taken to realise Yorkshire’s “collective ambition”.

First, it promises, and I quote, a “statutory review which evidences the strong intuitive case that a new Yorkshire CA (Combined Authority) would improve the exercise of statutory functions and cover a functional economic area”.

Whoever wrote this guff, and signed it off, should hang their heads in shame. They should be highlighting how this is an opportunity for more efficient decision-making to generate economic growth, a reality that an army of expensively paid PR and external affairs staff at our councils, and quangos like West Yorkshire Combined Authority, can’t fathom for themselves.

Second, it talks about “local formal consent” being forthcoming from councils and combined authorities. Fine, but what support are they promising to convince the Government that One Yorkshire is for real? Specifics please.

Third, leaders are committed to “ensuring that broadly-based local support is demonstrated, including via support from MPs and peers and other stakeholders and through statutory public consultation and involvement using different methods”. What do they mean by this? Asking for support from members of the House of Lords over the public?

Don’t get me wrong. I advocated One Yorkshire long before local leaders started getting their act together and my position has not changed. I also sense that residents embrace the concept; they’re more understanding of the big picture. But I also know that they don’t like being taken for granted and they will want it demonstrated that a countywide mayor will not mean additional tiers of bureaucracy that actually hinder progress.

The people are Yorkshire’s best asset, not some of the more underwhelming council chiefs. My advice is to respect them – and start using the public to this region’s best advantage.

MY column last week diagnosing Failingraylingitis – those Ministers who follow Transport Secretary Chris Grayling’s unresponsiveness when it comes to corresponding to MPs – caused much merriment.

Parish priest Neil McNicholas was, however, disappointed that the column wasn’t headlined ‘Bewailing The Failing Crossrailing Grayling’ because of his efforts promoting Crossrail 2 in London at the expense of the North.

ANOTHER sacking offence by Chris Grayling. When the Transport Secretary visited Goole to launch the new Siemens train manufacturing plant, he declared: “I think it’s a vote of confidence first and foremost in Humberside.”

He forgets that Humberside, an artificial name always loathed by locals, was abolished in 1996.

TALKING of transport, my office desk looks out over the railway line on the approach to Leeds Station and it was noticeable, during the snow chaos, that the antiquated Pacer trains were, at times, the only services in operation.

Given these relics are being pensioned off – the carriages are primitive – might I suggest that some are, in fact, converted into snowploughs for the railways?

THREE and a quarter hours to do nine miles on Thursday morning to work on main roads left ungritted during the night. On this tortuous journey, I saw just one gritter. Well done Leeds City Council.

Now I suggest chief executive Tom Riordan provides residents with a contract outlining the services that they can expect before the authority increases council tax bills by around five per cent.

After all, he tweeted on Wednesday about the “scale and breadth of development” as he travelled around the city, and how this was a vote of confidence in Leeds. Let’s hope their business rates go towards a new gritter PDQ rather than on the pay packages of the 15 senior council staff who earn over £100,000 a year.

JUST like the steering group set up to oversee the East Coast Main Line appears to have little to show for its cursory efforts, even more perturbing is the state of Theresa May’s business advisory council.

Convened last October as “an important part of our preparations for leaving the EU”, it is – amazingly – only due to meet next week for the first time in five months. It must be a new phenomenon in public life – talking shops that don’t talk.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk

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