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Yorkshire: Devolution

Volume 793: debated on Wednesday 17 October 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will respond to the One Yorkshire proposals for devolution to a Combined Yorkshire Authority.

My Lords, the Government have always been clear that we will carefully consider any devolution proposals we receive. Eighteen Yorkshire councils continue to work on the devolution proposal and, on 10 October, provided updates to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State comprising an economic study and further developed governance proposals, which he will consider. However, our priority remains completing the Sheffield city region deal, which would bring £900 million in investment to that region.

My Lords, can we be assured that the Government are not using the reiteration of “completing the Sheffield deal” as a means of putting off coping with the proposal that we should move on from there to a One Yorkshire solution, which the elected mayor for Sheffield strongly supports? Three years ago, the previous Prime Minister complained that people in Yorkshire did not seem able to agree on this. All parties—business leaders in the region, trade union leaders in the region and leaders of local councils from all parties—have now agreed. The alternative of three city regions and the rest of north Yorkshire left out on its own as the residue, which the Government still seem to prefer, is more expensive and much less efficient.

My Lords, to reiterate, there is no change in the policy on the Sheffield city region. We have always regarded it as something that should be carried forward. We have legislation on this and we have had elections on this. Whatever his views on the broader Yorkshire deal, the elected mayor is seeking to ensure that the Sheffield city deal proceeds. As I said, detailed information has been sent to the Secretary of State. He will respond to that documentation and it would be wrong for me to do so, even if I were in a position to, which I am not.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Sheffield City Partnership board. Does the Minister agree that, to move on from the Sheffield city regional deal, it is important to establish that deal and provide money for both the elected mayor’s office and for the regional policy to move forward? Does he agree that any future incremental move from the Sheffield city regional deal is highly dependent on people getting their act together now and putting the people of the region first, rather than their political predilections?

My Lords, I substantially agree with what the noble Lord said. However, let me reassure him that £1 million has been given to the mayor for mayoral capacity-building—there is money for the mayor’s function. He is seeking to ensure that there is proper consultation in line with the legal advice that the Sheffield city region has had, so that we can move this forward as the noble Lord suggests.

My Lords, can we be assured that, whether or not the Government support the One Yorkshire proposal, they will continue to work with businesses in the region to develop a model of devolution that will ensure the Yorkshire economy will survive and thrive?

My Lords, without prejudging the Secretary of State’s response to the documentation he has received—just a week ago—we are of course wedded to ensuring that the economy of Yorkshire and the whole region thrives. There is, if not a proposal, documentation, to which the Secretary of State will respond. I come back to the point that, as has always been the policy, it is important that we all get behind the Sheffield city deal and it is executed in line with processes in this House and the other place, and with the election that has been held.

My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my relevant interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. Does the Minister agree that, whatever is finally agreed, it should be locally led? Will he confirm that nothing will be imposed by the Government?

My Lords, there certainly has to be a proposal. As the noble Lord will be aware, the process is that we respond to proposals made on devolution. There has been no formal proposal for the One Yorkshire deal, although documentation has been sent forward. However, it is clearly important that this is locally led, as we can only respond to proposals. I can confirm that the Sheffield city deal was locally led and, as I said, everyone should get behind it, because it is a sine qua non to moving on in the region generally—but I make no prejudgment of what the response will be.

My Lords, we take the point about the Sheffield city region, but it leaves the rest of Yorkshire wondering where it fits in, and when this will improve for it. We have failing rail infrastructure. In Yorkshire, we have almost total, widespread support for the One Yorkshire devolution deal. A report produced by the Institute for Government has referred to Yorkshire as,

“the hole in the northern powerhouse”.

Although delighted that Sheffield might thrive, the rest of Yorkshire wonders what will happen to it. We are falling behind Manchester and Liverpool in our ability to flex in the economics of the country.

My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate. I agree that it is important that the experience of mayoral city regions, of Manchester and elsewhere, is learned by the whole country. We respond to proposals, not just from Yorkshire, but from elsewhere—but that has not yet happened. I welcome what the right reverend Prelate said regarding Sheffield. That is certainly true; it must proceed. That is in accordance with what we have done as a Government, what this House and the other place have done as a Parliament, and what the electorate have done in electing Dan Jarvis as mayor.

My Lords, there is amazing unity in Yorkshire—a bit of a historic moment, that. A great campaign run by the regional newspaper the Yorkshire Post has gathered support for the One Yorkshire devolution deal. If the Government are not prepared to consider a One Yorkshire solution—perhaps they are a bit frightened of the size of Yorkshire and the power it would then have—would it not be worth them getting a polling company to find out what the people of Yorkshire think? I know what the answer would be, and maybe that is the best way to tell the Government. Does the Minister agree that that is a good idea?

I listened very carefully to the noble Baroness and I usually agree with her, but we should not get ahead of ourselves by involving polling companies when we do not yet have a proposal. As I say, the policy is absolutely clear and it has not faltered. On devolution, we must first get a proposal; there has not been one. I come back to the point that this cannot happen until the Sheffield city deal has been executed. This has not happened yet because of the lack of consultation; it has been held up, and I understand the frustrations there. But for us to react and consider polling or anything else, I am afraid we must first have proposals.