Yorkshire: Devolution - Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:45 pm on 12th February 2019.

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Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 2:45 pm, 12th February 2019

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to respond to recent proposals for devolution in Yorkshire.

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State wrote to Mayor Dan Jarvis and the 18 local Yorkshire leaders today, saying that while,

“the One Yorkshire proposals do not meet our criteria … we are prepared … to begin discussions about a different, localist approach to devolution in Yorkshire”, for example, by considering proposals by the Leeds City Region, York and North Yorkshire and the Humber estuary, provided the Sheffield City Region deal is completed.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, at last we have an answer from the Government. I hope my Question helped to push them a little. The devolution deals were supposed to respond to local wishes. As the Minister said, the clear position in Yorkshire is that 18 of the 20 local councils, people from all parties, the CBI and the TUC all agree that One Yorkshire recognises that Yorkshire as an economic and social entity makes the most sense. Why are the Government not prepared to work on that basis when they said that they would listen to local authorities in approaching devolution?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for welcoming the clarity of the approach we have announced today, as I believe he did. I recognise that he is not totally happy with our response but this is not just about listening to local authorities, although that is part of the issue. The One Yorkshire deal would not be consistent with our approach to other metro city mayors as coherent economic entities, as I am sure the noble Lord would see if he looked at our approach there. The fact that that makes more sense crystallised the thinking behind the letter that went out today.

Photo of Lord Blunkett Lord Blunkett Labour

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it would be perverse in the extreme for a group of authorities that agreed to a devolution deal and an elected city mayor, then reneged on it and found out that authorities to the north were already talking about working together on their own deal, not to go back to their original commitment and draw down tens of millions of pounds of public money to invest in local services and infrastructure, at the same time as building an incremental approach to any future One Yorkshire deal?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I find myself in total agreement with the noble Lord. I agree that it makes perfect sense for the Sheffield City Region authority to progress. I understand that it is due to meet a week on Thursday to look at this matter; I very much hope that it processes the issue and moves forward because £900 million over a 30-year period is attached to the Sheffield City Region project. I hope it goes ahead and I hope that other parts of Yorkshire follow, in the way I suggested to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace.

Photo of Baroness Warsi Baroness Warsi Conservative

My Lords, I echo the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. There is a lot of cross-party agreement on the One Yorkshire deal at a local level; it is supported by the CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses and the TUC. However, is my noble friend concerned that a balkanisation approach in Yorkshire may result in certain parts of that region being left behind? Does he agree that there may be some merit in considering a much broader One Yorkshire deal?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, my noble friend takes a very different approach to the issue. I read the article on balkanisation to which she may have been referring. Many people have addressed this issue, saying that it would be wrong to cut across existing economic entities. For example, the Select Committee chairman, Clive Betts, the honourable Member for Sheffield South East, takes the view that a One Yorkshire deal would be wrong. We need to look at this issue in terms of where economic ties and cohesive agreements already exist and proceed on that basis. I understand the emotional pull of Yorkshire but we must look at the economic issues as well.

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing)

My Lords, I first declare an interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I am aware of the letter sent to Dan Jarvis, and I thank the Minister for sending me a copy. Can he give the House some more details of the timescales proposed here? It appears perverse that the Government are straightaway ruling out an option that clearly commands a lot of support in Yorkshire and are prepared to discuss only options that seem to have less support.

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I first thank the noble Lord for his comments, but on simply ruling it out he will be aware that copious documents have gone forward from the Yorkshire leaders. Some 100 pages of complex analytical documents on this have been studied, so it is not the sort of capricious decision he was perhaps suggesting. A lot of thought has gone into this. If he looks at the other metro mayors, he will see that they represent much smaller, more appropriate, cohesive economic regions—around the West Midlands, Manchester and Liverpool—than a county. Also, historically Yorkshire has never been a single devolved entity in its administration. As the noble Lord will know, it was split into ridings, for example, so perhaps the Government’s thinking is much more reflective of the economic units that used to be in place in Yorkshire.

Photo of Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate Conservative

My Lords, I am one of those who have been very much involved in devolution proposals for Yorkshire for a long time now. Can my noble friend confirm that, while there has been a lot of unity of purpose, parts of the region, particularly the southern parts—Sheffield is the city concerned—have not been able to get their act together and have disagreed, originally intending to leave Yorkshire altogether in their proposed union with Derbyshire? Now they have changed their minds about four times. That does not help us get a settlement. Would the Minister urge the South Yorkshire representatives, including the mayor, to get their act together and to come around the table with the other 18 authorities to discuss the matter further?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, in all fairness, I think the mayor has been very keen to get this moving, and his actions have reflected that. He is very much committed to ensuring that we implement the Sheffield city deal. I hope this now goes forward a week on Thursday, when the meeting is due. It is much more complex than some would suggest, in that some parts of the economic entities are outside the historical county of Yorkshire—he has mentioned Derbyshire and the same could be said of parts of north Nottinghamshire, which look towards Sheffield and the South Yorkshire area. Also, looking at Humberside, for example, north Lincolnshire would be an appropriate part of any deal there. So it is not simply a case of looking at Yorkshire and building a deal around Yorkshire.