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On Yorkshire Day (1st August) this year, Boris Johnson sent the following message to us Yorkshire folk saying, “I know there’s wide support for more devolution here and we must now move forward with an approach that’s practical, while giving communities a much greater say over transport, housing, public services and infrastructure that will drive growth and see long-lasting benefits for families and businesses in this great region.”

The fact is that the population of the Yorkshire and Humber Region, at almost 5.4 million, is greater than that of Scotland (5.3 million). In fact, three of the 10 largest cities in the UK – Leeds, Sheffield and Bradford – are in Yorkshire. Yet any plans for a One Yorkshire devolution deal appear to have been stymied by the inability of the  Government to look positively on such a deal supported by 18 local authorities, including both metropolitan (mainly Labour) authorities and the rural, more Conservative areas of East and North Yorkshire and the Sheffield City Region Mayor. Both to the north and the west of Yorkshire there are devolution deals in Teesside and Greater Manchester, which means that there is a risk that Yorkshire misses out on some investment opportunities, as more funding streams are focussed on these Mayoral Combined Authority areas.

Despite all this politicking, there has been economic progress such as on the east coast, which used to be seen as a neglected and depressed region and is now emerging as the first evidence of economic and social renaissance via a North Sea energy boom. 

This has brought to Hull many new jobs with a Siemens Gamesa blade factory for wind turbines, the biggest manufacturing plant built in Britain this century. The company is currently adding a second production line to meet demand from the off-shore wind farm at Hornsea 1 while in Grimsby, the Danish group Ørsted has based its control room that manages every turbine 75 miles out in the North Sea. Hornsea 2, 3, and 4, are lined up for the early 2020s, and together they could produce 6.2 gigawatts (GW) for the National Grid. This ‘green energy’ will be produced at around at £57.50 per megawatt/hour (MWh) compared to the Hinkley Point nuclear plant’s projected price of £92.50. Such cheap energy opens up the prospect of direct cables to chemical plants on the Humber, at Teesside, or to the struggling steel works at Scunthorpe, making these plants competitive with other plants across Europe and the world.

Further up the coast in Bridlington, there is a harbour that lands more lobster by weight than any other port in the EU, and further in land at Goole, 200 more jobs could be created on top of the 700 already announced at a new train £200m factory. This factory will build state-of-the-art trains for the Piccadilly Line in London. There are plenty of other positive economic stories coming out of the county including in Sheffield, where Boeing now has its first European facility making actuation system components for 737 and 767 aircraft. This was following an investment by Boeing of more than £40 million.  Investment from Channel 4 can also be seen, with the station’s new national HQ planning to be located opposite Leeds railway station7

One of the greatest obstacles that faces Yorkshire, and indeed the wider North of England, is that the road and rail infrastructure is way behind that of London. This year, IPPR’s analysis of historic spending shows that over the last 10 years (2008/09–2017/18), the average annual public spending on transport has been £739 per capita on London, compared to £305 per capita on the North. This gap has grown over the last 10 years – spending per capita on London has increased by 2.5 times more than it has in the North since 2007/08. 

What Boris Johnson needs to do, alongside giving Yorkshire a devolution deal, is to give Transport for the North (TfN) more powers similar to that of TfL. This is so that TfN can get on with the full electrification of the Hullapool line, not just Leeds to Manchester, and improve other rail connections by giving local groups financial incentives to build new rail infrastructure or reinstitute unused lines. Local groups would do this in association with TfN on  lines such as between Beverley to York, Skipton to Colne and Harrogate to Northallerton. In addition, there need to be road improvements by making dual-carriageways or widening of roads a priority, particularly from city areas to Yorkshire coastal resorts and Humber ports, which are the busiest ports complex in the UK. 

Yorkshire is an example of how national government needs to devolve decision making to the regions of England, as has already happened in the three other countries of our United Kingdom thus bringing the operation of our county’s governmental institutions far closer to the people in a post-Brexit age.

Peter Wilson was born in Yorkshire and worked in the West Riding textile trade before moving into media including the radio industry in the UK & Zambia. He was involved in lobbying parliament to get changes made to broadcasting legislation in the 1990 Broadcasting Act and the 2003 Communications Act, which has led to an increase in the range of radio & TV services. From 2008 to 2012 he was Wolverhampton City Councillor. Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.