Why should we in the North continue to place hope and faith in a national elite?

“Why not get together to decide what we want and demand the authority – and responsibility – needed to make it happen?”

Andrew Wilson of the Same Skies Collective and Hannah Directory recently spoke with Big Issue In The North here.

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Can #RegionalDemocracy really make a difference to people’s everyday lives?

In the first part of Made In Leeds TV’s ‘On Closer Inspection’, Leila Taleb from the Shared Skies Collective discusses the future of the North with Peg Alexander. The below clip also includes the views of people on the streets of Leeds and those of John Boocock from Yorkshire First:

On Closer Inspection Series 3 Episode 4 Part 1

In the second part of the programme, Leila is also joined by Ed Carlisle from the Collective considering how #RegionalDemocracy should not be about waiting around for people who already hold power to give it away, but about citizens from all backgrounds making it happen themselves. It includes interviews by JUST West Yorkshire with people in Bradford:

http://www.madeinleeds.tv/player/?video_uuid=h1u0eq64&categoryId=70429

Will the future of our region be about all of us?

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Thirty people from Bradford, Huddersfield, Halifax and Leeds got together at the Carlisle Business Centre in Manningham on Saturday 7th November to share ideas about the future of our region.  The event, called ‘What Kind of Region Do We Want To Live In?’ was hosted by Leila Taleb of JUST West Yorkshire in partnership with other members of the Same Skies Collective, a non-party political group from West Yorkshire working for a hopeful, fair and inclusive regional democracy. Leila was also joined by a special guest host in an independent role, local TV and radio presenter Peg Alexander.

The Collective had been concerned that discussion about the future of our region had been dominated by people who already power nationally and locally and that the government’s ‘devolution’ agenda offered little of the hope for meaningful change and democratic renewal that Scotland’s own experience of devolution had inspired. Given this, Carlisle Business Centre in Manningham was chosen as the venue in order to make a strong statement that people from everywhere in West Yorkshire, and from all backgrounds, should be at the heart of any discussion about the future of the region. During the event, people took part in a range of sessions designed with advice from Ed Carlisle of community-building organisation Together for Peace so that all thirty participants had a fair chance to listen, talk and contribute.

It was very clear from discussions that many people felt strongly that decisions affecting people here should be made by people based here and committed to here. Specifically those decisions should be made by people with an elected mandate that was based on democratic renewal that actively engaged all parts of our communities. Regional Democracy gave us an opportunity to think again and do democracy differently from a political system that has failed so many people across West Yorkshire for such a long time.

Despite much concern about the nature of the government’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’ agenda, there was little appetite for remaining with the status quo and so participants generally felt that instead of simply opposing that agenda, there was a need to develop a positive alternative that emphasised democratic renewal and meaningful change. Nobody else is going to do it for us so if we want to make regional democracy work for all parts of our communities, we need to engage and think hopefully.

Whilst this event included a range of women and men of different ages and from different backgrounds that made it more inclusive than most political events about the future of our region, there is still a long way to go in ensuring that all parts of our communities can play a full role. In particular there was a feeling at the event that whilst the government owned the ‘story’ of devolution, the content of policy hadn’t changed and so people didn’t believe that ‘devolution’ could make a positive difference to their lives. If people are to give any of their precious time to thinking about devolution, they must feel that devolution will allow this region the power to do things differently from the way that Westminster has always done them.

As the event developed, the discussions highlighted hopeful ideas that were considered important in developing true regional democracy to benefit all parts of our community, including:

– the need to address the unrepresentative nature of politics and to actively engage female, young, working class and BME voices.

– the opportunities presented by our region’s diversity to ensure all parts of our community can contribute to our future, for example through community-led English language provision.

– the opportunities presented by local public banking to invest in local business sustainably.

– the need to ensure the development of our regional economy takes into account the impact on the health of all parts of our community.

– the need to address the unfair choice young people face in having to move to London to get jobs.

The Same Skies collective will be developing some of these hopeful ideas further over the winter, and a follow up event will take place in Leeds next Spring.

If you would like to get involved in the next stage, please contact us via Twitter or Facebook.

Ian Martin on behalf of the Same Skies Collective

Regional Democracy: A Load of Osbornian Hot Air or the Chance for the North to Unlock its Potential?

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Following last Saturday’s ‘What Kind Of Region Do We Want To Live In?’ event in Manningham,  JUST West Yorkshire issued the following press release on behalf of the collective:

Regional Democracy: A Load of Osbornian Hot Air or the Chance for the North to Unlock its Potential?

‘So far, we have had a top-down system dictated to and imposed on us by government, which has failed to engage the community in the broader vision of devolution’.

‘We shouldn’t just accept what’s being offered; we should be making demands.’

These are examples of the mood about Northern devolution felt at our ‘What Kind of Region?’ event, which took place last Saturday at the Carlisle Business Centre. The event saw a great turn out with a gender and ethnic minority balance, which has been patently missing in many of these debates.

A broad partnership initiative of stakeholders (who refer to themselves as the Same Skies Collective; a non-party political group from West Yorkshire advocating for a hopeful, fair and inclusive #RegionalDemocracy) organised an event to engage local communities, particularly marginalised groups, in having their say in setting the conditions they want in place in the event of a #RegionalDemocracy.

As current talks of devolution have lacked democratic engagement and failed to represent all sections of our diverse community, with the predominantly White, male, Oxbridge educated political setting the agenda; one of the key questions that came out of the day was whether the only option we have in Yorkshire is to dance to Osborne’s tune. It was pointed out that there is a lack of awareness among the wider community about what regional democracy could mean for Yorkshire and the North.

Some participants were of the view that the current proposed structure might suit the political establishment as that gives them the power to set the terms of the agenda.

George Osborne, the key driver of the Northern Powerhouse proposals and the Conservative government, would be well advised to take on board some of the grassroots’ feedback that emerged out of last Saturday’s event.

Some of the points made by participants were as follows:

‘The London-based banking system skews economic development towards the South.’

 ‘The lack of regional transport infrastructure and economic development strategy means that the North will always be playing catch up to the South.’

 ‘The development of a regional hub of excellence, research and development specialisms manufacturing an industrial diversification and a balanced economy must be a government priority.’

‘There must be an opportunity for local communities to come together to decide on their own future; not imposed by central government.’

‘There is a real risk that the Northern Powerhouse agenda is ideologically driven to promote privatisation at the expense of public services.’

Leila Taleb of JUST West Yorkshire said that “the term ‘devolution’ needs to be reframed in a way that not only raises awareness of what it means to ‘ordinary people’ but in a way that can be linked with everyday frustrations that people feel, such as the lack of investment in the North’s transport and infrastructure system, the graduate brain drain from the North to the South, and the exacerbating North-South divide. We need to promote devolution as an alternative to the Westminister perspective to make it more accessible to people and to show them the real benefits of a #regionaldemocracy that includes them.”

Ed Carlisle from Together for Peace said “there is a concern about the imposition of a London model; the parameters for the devolution deal are set by the government without meaningful local engagement in terms of making investment in the North, contingent on having a mayor rather than starting a dialogue inviting local solutions to local realities. The keeping of business rates for regional investment will always mean that the North will be a Cinderella region compared to the London and South East, both of which have a buoyant economy.”

The Same Skies collective will be developing some of these ideas further over the winter. A follow up event will take place in Leeds next Spring.

What’s stopping us?

Some thoughts and images from the #RegionalDemocracy event in Manningham, Bradford on Saturday. In this ‘World Café’ section of the event, people considered if anything was stopping us from being the kind of region we want to be. A full event report will appear on this blog later in the week.

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