County mayor plan confirmed on Yorkshire Day

Hemsworth MP Jon Trickett
Hemsworth MP Jon Trickett

PLANS to push ahead with a single Yorkshire devolution deal will include the region agreeing to have an elected mayor, it was confirmed today.

A coalition of civic leaders who have come together in a renewed drive for regional autonomy say they will agree to a mayoral figurehead “in the first instance” as part of any devolved powers handed down by Government.

The Yorkshire Day announcement has revitalised hopes that a deal with the Government will be forthcoming, after years of stalled talks complicated by the unique and expansive geography of the region and Ministers’ previous hostility to a ‘One Yorkshire’ type agreement.

In a joint statement today, the newly formed “coalition of the willing” of Yorkshire council leaders – 17 of whom gathered at a landmark summit to draw up a joint plan of action – said: “Today is Yorkshire Day and therefore it seems right to talk today about our county, its ambitions and our identity. The county is big enough and bold enough to want to carve out its own destiny.”

The statement added there was “unanimous” will for “working towards securing a single ambitious devolution deal for the Yorkshire authorities and areas wanting to work together on this basis”. “This would in the first instance be based on the Government’s present requirements of a directly elected mayor with clear responsibilities yet to be determined,” the leaders said.

A report commissioned as part of the latest devolution drive said the end result would be “a much more self-reliant and confident Yorkshire, ditching the begging-bowl mentality and ready to take its rightful place on the post-Brexit global stage”.

The Government has previously reinforced its commitment to devolving powers to local areas where there is strong local support for the idea.

Earlier this month, Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry, writing in The Yorkshire Post, said: “I want to work with local leaders [in Yorkshire] and I’m ready to listen to their ideas”. However he also stressed: “There will not be a ‘full Yorkshire’ devolution deal. Yorkshire is a fantastic brand. But devolution is about giving control to cities.”

Asked to comment on the latest developments, a spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government would only re-emphasise the Government’s commitment to a separate South Yorkshire deal, despite its current shaky status after the withdrawal of several members. The spokesman said Barnsley, Rotherham, Doncaster and Sheffield had “twice reaffirmed their desire and commitment to this deal which will see around £1billion of new government investment in the region and a mayor elected in May 2018”.

However the renewed ‘One Yorkshire’ push was welcomed today by long-term campaigners for regional devolution.

Hemsworth MP Jon Trickett, former shadow communities minister, said: “It is not right that entire regions in our country – especially in the North – have been left behind.

“Our educational attainment levels are too low, there is less investment here, public services are worse funded and our productivity and incomes are lagging behind.

“The only answer to this chronic regional inequality is devolution. I have personal preference for a ‘One Yorkshire’ system of devolution. But there are other equally valid views. Let there be a debate. The most important point is that we must get on with the job.”

Stewart Arnold, leader of the Yorkshire Party and the Yorkshire Devolution Movement, added: “Now is the time. We can’t leave it any longer. The Yorkshire brand is strong globally, and has very positive resonance with people. That’s why [devolution] works on a Yorkshire level”. And Keighley Labour MP John Grogan, who is Secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Yorkshire Group, said: “This is the best Yorkshire Day present that the people of God’s own county could receive. Ministers need to step up to the plate now and respond positively.”