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Yorkshire: Devolution

Volume 801: debated on Monday 10 February 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what further steps are to be taken in 2020 to devolve powers to Yorkshire.

My Lords, handing back power to people and places across the whole of England, particularly in the north, is an absolute priority for this Government as we work to level up prosperity and opportunity everywhere. The Sheffield City Region consultation launched on 3 February is required to open the way to its devolution deal being implemented in 2020. We continue to discuss the prospect of a devolution deal with Leeds, West Yorkshire and other parts of Yorkshire.

While we should be concerned today about the people of Yorkshire and the flooding that has taken place there—we extend our sympathy and interest to them—nevertheless, it is now several years since the Government embarked on a devolution process, encouraging the people of Yorkshire to take part in it and to obtain devolution. Why, therefore, are the Government pursuing only one formula rather than the formula the people of Yorkshire as a whole want to see, which is to bring the brand together and have the strength that that would give us, rather than the balkanisation of pieces of Yorkshire that is now taking place? I am sure that, rather than moving this House to York, the people of Yorkshire would prefer to see a “One Yorkshire” solution to devolution as soon as possible.

I extend my sympathies to those caught up in the floods. I know from my meeting this morning that my department is working very hard to help those communities.

I take my noble friend’s point, but the argument as to whether there should be a “One Yorkshire” is now becoming a bit old. From reaching out to Yorkshire and talking to the people there, it is clear that, with a population of 5.5 million, it is sensible—and driven by those in Yorkshire—to move towards devolved councils: four, hopefully. It is good news that South Yorkshire is up and running; we await the end of the consultation. Talks are going well in some of the other areas, including West Yorkshire.

My Lords, I spoke to Councillor Susan Hinchcliffe, the leader of Bradford Council, at the Local Government Association conference last weekend. She told me that much of the detail of the proposals has already been dealt with through Treasury officials and the Ministry. It is about providing an extra £30 billion a year to the economy, demonstrating commitment and cross-party support. Why, therefore, do the Government continue to delay in helping to tackle both urban and rural deprivation in Yorkshire through the implementation of a devolution deal?

There is no delay as such. I hope to reassure the noble Baroness by saying that talks and negotiations have been ongoing for some time. Negotiations on West Yorkshire and the Leeds deal continue and are going well. If we look at Bradford, Calderdale, Leeds, Wakefield and Kirklees, good progress is being made, but it is more than that. Discussions are well advanced, for example in North Yorkshire, and early discussions are going on in the East Riding of Yorkshire with the possibility of linking up with North and North East Lincolnshire. The noble Baroness will know that a lot of work is going on, but it is complex.

My Lords, the Minister says that the balkanisation of Yorkshire is sensible. Is he aware that the only people who think that are the Government, not the people of Yorkshire? Why do the Government think that dividing Yorkshire into four—something that nobody, not even the Romans or the Vikings, has attempted—will succeed, against the wishes of people in Yorkshire?

The noble Lord will know about the Ridings in Yorkshire, so Yorkshire’s being divided up is a historical fact. We have consistently stated that the idea of a One Yorkshire deal is outwith our criteria for devolution, which aim to ensure that deals can most effectively boost productivity, promote local growth and provide the sharp accountability necessary to deliver the investment that places need. The noble Lord should be aware that, if there were “One Yorkshire”, there would, for example, be one mayor for the whole of Yorkshire, which contains 5.5 million people. That is something he might want to think about.

My Lords, I beseech my noble friend the Minister to make sure that the last of the Yorkshire deals he spoke of, the one that incorporated North and North East Lincolnshire, does not go through? I declare an interest as the leader of South Holland District Council in Lincolnshire, and I still have hopes that one day we will get a deal for Lincolnshire as whole.

There seems to be an element of support for that behind me. Because negotiations are at an early stage, I will make sure that my noble friend’s comments are passed back to those negotiating in that area.

My Lords, the present powers in all the regions are different; in fact, they are a dog’s dinner. When will all the regions be given the same powers, given that they all want more powers?

This is exactly what we are doing. We are looking to level up across the whole of England. Some 37% of people now live within a mayorship. In the White Paper that is due to come out before long, we are looking at levelling up all other areas of England and devolving powers. It is about what they want, not what we want. It is giving them the opportunity to decide for themselves what they want.

My Lords, the Minister just suggested that the only model of devolution available is a single elected mayor. Of course, an alternative model would be a Yorkshire parliament—a far more democratic, representative body that could be elected by proportional representation and truly represent the people of Yorkshire. Will the Minister consider that?

As the noble Baroness will know, there is the so-called Yorkshire committee, consisting of Yorkshire leaders and mayors from across councils in Sheffield, Leeds, North Yorkshire, East Yorkshire, et cetera. It is up to them to decide.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the city region model simply does not fit North Yorkshire? When I asked the last Minister responsible for this how he defined a city region for North Yorkshire, he said it is a rural region that will have a virtual city. The extent to which one model is being pushed on various parts of England seems not only undemocratic but illogical.

It is. The criteria for devolution, which we have consistently applied, are that it has to be to a functional economic area that is strong and has accountable governance. Those are the criteria we should stick to.

My Lords, why does my noble friend continue to insist that there has to be “one area, one mayor”? Many people do not like that model. While I endorse what my noble friend from Lincolnshire said about Lincolnshire, I stress that many people believe that having one mayor is completely unnecessary. You can still have one Yorkshire.

As I say, it is up to discussions that are taking place. My noble friend will know that Cornwall is different, so it is not just one model for the whole of England. We are having discussions on a variety of ideas, but the mayoral model seems to be a good one that is accepted locally.