Devolution may still be patchy – transport and connectivity must be joined up
As polling day approaches for the West Midlands, Tees Valley, Greater Manchester, Liverpool, the West of England and in Peterborough & Cambridgeshire many can only watch from next door at what is happening. Whether or not you support the Mayoral model, it is undoubtedly the case that it will bring historic opportunities for those who have signed deals to take powers away from Whitehall.
As Tony Blair’s government will always be remembered for devolution in Scotland, London, Wales and in Northern Ireland following the Good Friday Agreement, the changes already agreed will undoubtedly alter England not only politically, but economically. Re-balancing the UK economy by growing the North faster will rely on investment decisions made by those with the greatest knowledge of what will most effectively enable the inclusive growth which will address long term social divides.
Business leaders from across Yorkshire began 2017 by calling for devolution here in the region, a united front to make the case for its economic necessity. However, mixed responses so far have meant that the challenge has not been met.
As local political leaders in South Yorkshire and the Government continue to pursue their current deal, those in the Leeds City Region, at the heart of the North’s economy, are at risk of being left behind. While there have been concerted efforts from former Ministers and local political leaders on the ground, with talks now of a ‘Greater Yorkshire’ deal, without South Yorkshire; or indeed a revival of the original Leeds City Region deal, there has been a lack of willingness to compromise by other interested parties. The region has hence, as yet, been unable to reach a package of deals with the significant powers and resources needed, accompanied by Mayors, as has been achieved elsewhere.
It is in the context of the initiative being lost on devolution that we look to the Chancellor, and his Autumn Budget later this year, with hopes of more progress on transport and connectivity.
The need for better East – West connectivity across the North is undeniable, via road, rail and undoubtedly digital links. One notable example of what will address this need is Northern Powerhouse Rail. Its title does not truly reflect the significance of this project: Crossrail of the North would perhaps be more apt; the piece of transformational infrastructure which will effectively reshape the map of Liverpool, Newcastle and Hull and all those communities between. In the Leeds City Region, the #NextStopBradford campaign has caught the imagination of many of those living and working here. Ensuring a Manchester to Leeds route which includes a Bradford city centre station is a piece of infrastructure which will need a consensus across the North as well as significant financial commitment. It will not only transform Bradford’s economy, but also connect our country’s youngest city and workforce with the agglomerations of both Leeds and Manchester.
It is disappointing in cities like Leeds or Bradford to still await devolution – but I for one still believe it will happen. When the Autumn Budget is read before the close of 2017, in both transport and digital the North must be the first priority to re-balance the economy for the best long term interests of the whole country.
Henri Murison is Public Affairs Manager at the Yorkshire Building Society Group