Yorkshire First has written to all Council Leaders and Elected Mayors in Yorkshire calling on them to work together to support the building of a new constitutional settlement for Yorkshire. The letter is reproduced in full below.
Dear Council Leader/Elected Mayor
I have written this open letter to every Council Leader & directly elected Mayor in Yorkshire. I will also be publishing it on the Yorkshire First website, www.yorkshirefirst.org.uk.
I’m writing in response to the Prime Minister’s gaffe earlier this month about Yorkshire folk hating each other, as well as everyone else. We at Yorkshire First completely disagree with Mr Cameron - rivalry is here in Yorkshire as it is in most parts of the country, but you will find survey after survey shows people in Yorkshire believe we live in one of the friendliest places around.
However, we understand what drove Mr Cameron into making his comment – it is the behaviour of some of Yorkshire’s Council Leaders and Mayors. The inability of some to come together to build a sustainable devolution settlement for our region – and the failure to properly consult with the people.
We at Yorkshire First support first rate devolution of powers for our region that currently has 22 principal councils, costly Police and Crime Commissioners as well as LEPs, city regions, and other undemocratic quangos. Most have failed to deliver for the residents of Yorkshire.
We have been calling for a ‘Conversation for Yorkshire’ for over eighteen months to agree a way forward that allows us to build on our strengths and address our weaknesses. After all, the UK already has tried and tested devolution models - from Scotland and Wales, to Northern Ireland and Greater London, models which have been endorsed by their people. Consent, buy in, and engagement of people as citizens are the answers in a crisis of democracy and legitimacy.
And this is a crisis. Nine out of the ten poorest areas in the whole of northern Europe are in the UK; three of those are in Yorkshire. That is not good enough, especially when the richest area in northern Europe is also in the UK – namely Inner London. It is good for the UK that we have a strong London, but not if it thrives by sucking the energy, talent, life, youth and money from the regions.
Yorkshire has the worst GCSE results, the highest number of children living in poverty and the lowest number of ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ schools at early years level. We have an infrastructure that is an embarrassment, yet no means of taking advantage of our undoubted strengths. We need the powers to act together to build a Yorkshire and a United Kingdom that works for all parts and regions - a region that thrives socially, economically and politically.
Each of your councils have the power to begin a process of building agreement and consensus on the way forward, but it takes leadership, time, and vision to set out a roadmap for Yorkshire to achieve the powers needed for us to thrive - nothing on the table, and nothing off the table. Just a commitment to explore and agree how we are able to address our strategic challenges, as well as bringing decision making closer to our cities, towns and villages.
In Switzerland, 40% of taxation is retained (not given back to!) by their equivalent of town and parish councils. A further 50% of taxation goes to the region for service provision (Schooling, Health, public transport, economic development etc) with 10% going to the central government. This compares to the UK where our local councils can influence an embarrassingly small part of their budgets. There are 1225 councillors in Yorkshire with passion and ideas, but limited influence. The current system is not fit for purpose. It is a sham of democracy and a waste of money.
A regional government for Yorkshire could unlock our enormous potential, give clear direction to our great region and allow us to thrive.
The immediate steps to achieve this are clear.
- Firstly, we need our councils to engage with the people of Yorkshire over the next few months – real involvement, not ‘consultation’.
- Secondly, agreement is needed for a 2020 vision for Yorkshire - where should our priorities be? Transport? Education? Health? The arts? Energy? All of these or other priorities entirely? What's important is that consensus on the powers to deliver the vision for the people of Yorkshire – regionally and locally - will be needed.
- Thirdly, approval for the 2020 vision could be gained in a Yorkshire-wide referendum.
With real leadership your councils could be part of the solution.
Regional government should not be about just pooling existing council resources, but taking powers from central government. On our terms, not artificial timetables or with pre-conditions.
You could prove Mr Cameron wrong by working for what is right for the whole region and putting aside your differences. We have the opportunity for real change for the whole of Yorkshire – and with your support Yorkshire could achieve first rate devolved powers similar to Scotland.
Will you support a roadmap for agreeing a new settlement for Yorkshire?
With best regards
Leader - Yorkshire First