Good Evening Councillor Andy Walker.
The Yorkshire Party has been experiencing a surge in interest and growth over the summer, as is seen from our 58,851 first preference votes, and estimated 170,000~ 1st and 2nd preference votes for YP leader Bob Buxton in the May West Yorkshire Mayoral Elections, in addition to a strong - and electorally influential- performance in the July Batley and Spen By Election. By standing For Yorkshire Devolution, Empowering Local People, and Fixing the Problems A Disconnected Westminster centric system cause; The Yorkshire Party is bringing more attention, investment, and political interest to Yorkshire.
The hard work done by Councillors like yourself goes a long way towards creating this growth and helping to implement Local Democracy and properly representative government, after all, unlike other major parties, the YP has no whipping system which enables Councillors to best serve their constituents, not a party machine.
I have a few questions which members of the public may have about The Yorkshire Party, Yorkshire Devolution, and the work which our Councillors like yourself do.
Tell us about your ward, Bridlington South. What lives do people lead, what problems do locals encounter, and what work do you carry out for your constituents?
Bridlington South is a beautiful part of Yorkshire - where the wolds meet the sea. Spectacular RSPB cliffs and long history around the settlement of Bridlington with about 35000 residents. Tim and I represent Bridlington South with about 11000 electors - a truly varied urban (seaside town) environment which covers the fishing harbour, hotels and guest houses as well as industrial estate and council estates too. The housing stock varies from Council Flats to million-pound-mansions overlooking the Bay and I still cannot predict where the best questions come from when out campaigning - right across the spectrum, the best bit of being a Councillor is talking to residents.
I was elected to the Town Council as well as East Riding of Yorkshire Council - so from a town-sized Parish Council with lots of community issues and not much politics, up to a thousand square miles of Unitary Council - with lots of responsibility and lots of politics too. East Riding Council has 67 elected members and the Conservative Group have about 47 of them - but proportionality rules mean that, when Tim and I formed The Yorkshire Group, we were allocated seats on Committees, from Planning and Safer to Environment and the powerful Overview Scrutiny Comittee. These are where most of the work is done - big agendas with, often difficult subjects like The Performance of departments for safeguarding vulnerable children.
The protocols also allow us to bring motions to Full Council - and we've used these to good effect. The first ever motion for ERYC to declare a Climate Emergency was brought (the first time) by myself and seconded by Cllr Johnson (LibDem). It was knocked back when the Conservative Group introduced a "wrecking amendment" but the fallout saw a Full Review Panel established. The second-ever motion to declare the Climate Emergency was brought by myself and seconded by Tim - together we reminded them that it was a full year since Council had needed to act - and in February this year (2021), ERYC formally declared a Climate Emergency at the recommendation of the Review Panel. This story illustrates how the injection of fresh thinking into a 'comfortable' council can bring important changes - even if it takes a year or two!
It is enlightening that despite Tim and yourself being just 2 councillors, working in a Conservative supermajority, through the proportionality political rules, you are able to amplify the voices of your constituents and raise urgent issues by forming working groups and being seated on committees. Proportional representation is vital to allowing communities to be heard, and something I'm sure has room for further expansion.
The Climate Emergency affects coastal communities like those in Bridlington much more immediately than inland areas, and by Working Cross-Party to call for the ERYC to declare a Climate Emergency shows great long term thinking and planning on your part.
Conservatives shooting this down the "Wrecking Ball" amendment is, as you say, an example of out of date thinking, and it is admirable and showcases the success Yorkshire Party councillors have in shaping the agenda into a positive direction. Climate change is *The Issue* for the 21st century and the big 2 Westminster Parties are not acting with enough strength, speed, and leadership to protect the environment and find solutions to the issue.
The Yorkshire Party has great influence over affairs, and by listening and focusing on talking to residents and helping with local community problems (Like your campaigning to keep A&E provision at Bridlington Hospital) we are doing more to contribute than a government which talks about "Levelling Up" while simultaneously destroying healthcare services, social care, and myriad of other vital areas.
The YP was founded in 2014, and since then has seen much growth and attracts interest from all over the political spectrum and voters who are alienated from current parties.
This brings us to the next question,
Why did you join the Yorkshire Party?
I have never been a member of a political party before - and I've had decades to get involved - I was always too busy. I'm fortunate to have a wonderful extended family and as the Sunday Dinner discussions grew, so did my realisation that getting things done around here was almost impossible if it wasn't in the Westminster focus.
Any single issue could (and did) take all the resources of Westminster so that every issue important to local residents was put 'on the back burner'. It was a short hop from there to meet like-minded folk who felt that 'decisions were done to them' and there must be a better way. The next biggest discovery was that the Yorkshire Party has no whipping system so it is always people-before-party - and finally, I was born in Yorkshire.. been away for many years - and that absence allowed a clear understanding that Levelling-Up had not happened, was not happening and would not happen without a clear alternative to Westminster-centric politics. I remain very happy that the Yorkshire Party has grown into a valid, broad political force with a unique identity.
That fragmentation of political attention you mention where single issues take up all of Westminster's time and resources is something which I think is key. Bottlenecks occur too often which results in important constituent's issues being left by the wayside.
Under a Yorkshire Regional Government, Assembly members would be able to utilise time and resources more efficiently, and actually have time and the inclination to focus on local and regional improvements in a much better way, while MP's would be able to steer the direction of national and foreign policy.
Such a set up would make Yorkshire politics work better for people, and make sure that priorities are dealt with, rather than delay and, for example, continuous reductions and cancelations in Infrastructure and rail projects. I know a lot of noise is made about HS2, but the East coast mainline is in dire need for Environmental upgrades and rail track improvements which the current government has shown very little interest in enacting.
"Levelling up" can only start from the ground up, by listening to people and improving community and society from that, rather than political and economic decisions being imposed without individuals' say. A Yorkshire Devolution settlement can do so much in this regard. Taking the levers of Power and decision making away from Westminster, and given to the people of Yorkshire.
Such proposals for local government are not new in the UK, the Scotland Act 1996 and the Wales Act 2006 establish precedent for how Devolved Governments can be set up in other areas of the country, similar Proposals and Bills would be the precursor to The Yorkshire Parliament.
What does Devolution Mean to you?
Devolution is the key to Levelling Up.
It needs to be meaningful devolution to a Regional Parliament where our elected representatives can be held to account as they administer Yorkshire’s education, transport, environment and health - all with a realistic budget and a fair election system.
This is not another layer of administration - those decisions are being taken by ministers, departments and civil servants now.. but currently, they all live and work in London.
One quick example: a cycle path in Bridlington needed to have sharp corners made smoother - to make it safer and more realistic but the planned changes had to be signed-off by the Secretary of State (honestly). His departmental people administered the change and sent the drawings back. The point is that all those people involved spent their salaries in London and not in Yorkshire. We would achieve significant efficiency savings while moving decisions closer to the people most affected by them. I certainly don’t want independence but I do want a stronger Yorkshire in a fairer UK.
It seems mad that a cycle path improvement- instead of being dealt with at a local level-, have to be sent all the way to a Secretary of State due to antiquated rules and too much centralisation in Westminster. I think this is but one of many examples of how Westminster Bureaucracy and inefficiencies stop local improvements from being made. Efficiency and time savings by moving decisions closer to the people, via Yorkshire Devolution, will make local improvements happen much quicker, helping create solutions in everyday life faster, rather than having to go through the slow and wasteful halls of Westminster.
The broader issue that this raises, is that Yorkshire is hamstrung by an indifferent and unresponsive Westminster Centric Political System, and many broad improvements throughout our County are possible by taking the road to Devolution
And final Question: How Will Yorkshire Devolution help to improve the lives of your constituents, and how do you see A Yorkshire Parliament creating benefit for all people in Yorkshire, Politically, Economically, and Socially?
The prize is to have decisions about Yorkshire made in Yorkshire - that is what a Yorkshire Regional Parliament will bring. The people making those decisions should be elected by and accountable to the people of Yorkshire - and the decisions need to be transparent.
England is by far the most centralised of western democracies and it has become ever-more stifled by a disinterested administration entirely centred on Westminster. Spending per Yorkshire person by Westminster is much less than per London person in absolutely vital areas like education and transport.
Central government repeatedly offers rail-electrification but cancels the projects just before they begin - while public transport investment races ahead in the South East. Recall the daily queues on platforms when the rail timetables were modified - people simply could not get to work - and that also restricts the education choices where courses are too far away for students to join.
The same is true for environmental and commercial investments - we are constantly held back, waiting for the 'sign-off' from Westminnster - which may never come.
A huge benefit of a Regional Parliament would be the closer involvement of electors. Currently many people feel that decisions are 'done to them' - that they have had no part in the policies or the deliberation - that they are removed from political engagement but a Yorkshire Parliament, structured to listen and unafraid to engage with really successful resources like Citizens Assemblies can provide electors with a real stake in the future.
- Councillor Andrew Walker, Bridlington South