With the news today that both Doncaster and Barnsley councils now officially wish to pursue a ‘One Yorkshire’ devolution deal it becomes frankly absurd that the city of Wakefield is lost in the devolution wilderness. Tonight i wrote an open letter to the leader of Wakefield Council, Peter Box, as below.
Dear Councillor Box,
This week Yorkshire has edged closer still to the very real possibility of a Yorkshire wide ‘One Yorkshire’ devolution deal, that only a few short months ago seemed a distant dream. Almost all Yorkshire leaders are now united behind the Yorkshire flag, sending a message to Government that we, as a county, are coming of age politically and deserve better than a few trivial powers handed down to small ‘city regions’. One noted exception from the ever growing, united voice is that of the city of Wakefield. 17 out of 20 of Yorkshire’s councils recently formed a ‘coalition of the willing’ and signed a joint letter signalling their intent to finally work together for the good of the county and for the good of the Yorkshire people they represent and work for. Whilst Sheffield and Rotherham are known to still favour a Sheffield City Region deal it remains a mystery why Wakefield was absent from that historic moment. The Northern Powerhouse Minister, Jake Berry, has made it quite clear that the Government is against a Yorkshire wide deal and that to pursue a ‘One Yorkshire’ deal the councils of Yorkshire would need to overwhelmingly support such a proposal. Today one of the last remaining obstacles to our united councils moving forward with the county wide deal appears to have begun to crumble, with Doncaster and Barnsley leaders making it quite clear, in a joint statement, that they now wish to pursue a ‘One Yorkshire’ devolution deal. In effect, the Sheffield City Region proposal is falling apart.
As Chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority one of your final acts was to accept defeat over a plan to rebrand the authority under a ‘Leeds City Region’ banner, after coming under cross-party pressure and intense pressure from the public and the Yorkshire Party. Many of the councils represented on the West Yorkshire Combined Authority are now clearly in support of a ‘One Yorkshire’ deal and the Leeds City Region concept is all but dead. You then took up the Chair of the Key Cities group, a collection of councils with mid-size populations working together. The very mantra of the Key Cities group is that the 21 councils involved represent 7.2 million residents and by working together the 21 councils have faster growing economies than the Core Cities group. When taking up the Chair you were quoted as saying: “Our message is clear – if you want to achieve more growth, more quickly, then Key Cities are best placed to deliver this.”
It is quite clear that you firmly believe that cities working together is the key and that the combined population of such groupings and economic power of those councils and populations are key to their individual growth and success. Yorkshire has a population of over 5.3 million residents, so it begs the question of why you are so supportive of the Key Cities group which you chair but see no value in the combined councils of Yorkshire forming a grouping with a similar population to that of the Key Cities group but with real devolved powers. Is it not contradictory of you to maintain this position?
Finally, as a resident of Wakefield, i wish to know why you feel that you represent the people of the city and the district on this matter. As far as i recall you have never asked us for our views on devolution and the potential role that Wakefield would play in the county. Every day i speak to residents of the city and across the district who are angry about being potentially left behind, especially today when it became clear that Doncaster, a town with a comparable population and economy to Wakefield (and interestingly also a member of the Key Cities group) has made it quite clear that they favour a ‘One Yorkshire’ deal. How is it possible that the leaders of Doncaster have the bravery and vision to step out into a battle for real, combined powers? Yet their neighbouring city and Key Cities ally, led by a man who openly states that councils together are stronger, have gone AWOL on the battlefield just as the real fight for unity and strength is about to begin?