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.

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