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D Smith writes leaders for The Information Daily and Council News Monitor. After a lifetime in Fleet Street he now divides his time between homes in France and the north-west of England. He enjoys drinking, eating, sleeping and poking fun. His autobiography A Dog's Life is unaccountably out of print.

@theleaderspeaks

Devolution has stalled and the Government has hidden the starting handle.

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© moniqca 2014 - Peter Liversidge sculpture, Yorkshire Sculpture Park

It is two years since the Government deadline for local areas to submit devolution proposals. Around 34 proposals were submitted but the Government wont tell us how things are progressing

The Government is neglecting its duty with regard to devolution. The Secretary of State has an obligation to provide annual reports to Parliament setting out progress on devolution across England as soon as possible after 31 March each year. This year’s report has yet to be published.

The Local Government Association (LGA) and a posse of the more assertive local authorities want to see this years report without further delay and are getting increasingly tetchy as it becomes clear that progress towards devolution has stalled.

There have been no new devolution deals announced in 18 months “despite many areas being keen to press forward with negotiations” says LGA. And while they welcome the appointment of new mayors for six of the combined authorities they are quick to point out that the elected mayor route is not the only possible model for devolution.

Council leaders, says LGA, have made it clear that they want to explore further options for the widespread transfer of powers and responsibilities to the whole of England in order to get on with boosting the economy at both a local and a national level. But the May government seems to have little appetite for beer and sandwiches at No.10 and devolution without elected mayors is conveniently not of the table so the ministerial diary remains unforgivingly full.

The Government might say they have a more pressing and important task in hand. But a government that can’t multitask cannot really claim to be a government. On the other hand the Prime Minister may be wary of raising the spectre of Brexit. For LGA and the foot soldiers of the Northern Powerhouse have made it clear that Brexit cannot simply mean a transfer of powers from Brussels to Westminster, Stormont, Cardiff and Holyrood.

Brexit says LGA must lead to new legislative freedoms, flexibilities and economic opportunities for local government all over the nation. And the “how” and “when” of that process must be discussed and agreed now, while the detail of the whole thing is being thrashed out.

On 31 August, while the House of Commons was still on its summer break, a group of Yorkshire councils including Barnsley, Bradford, Calderdale, Craven, Doncaster, East Riding of Yorkshire, Hambleton, Harrogate, Hull, Kirklees, Leeds, North Yorkshire, Richmondshire, Ryedale, Scarborough, Selby and York met, not for the first time, to “discuss the future of our great county and to reconfirm our commitment to progress a One Yorkshire devolution deal”. The press announcement described this initiative as ‘a coalition of the willing’.

In a bravura show of unanimity all the Councils present agreed that One Yorkshire is the way to go. “We are confident that given the right deal and the right funding, Yorkshire can finally complete the missing piece in the Northern Powerhouse project benefiting Yorkshire, the North and the whole country in the process” said a spokesperson.

The One Yorkshire initiative has gone far beyond the talking stage. Officers have been tasked to work with stakeholders, MPs, businesses, unions and political groups to develop proposals for One Yorkshire. And they are “seeking an urgent meeting with Ministers to discuss how best we can work as partners to progress a One Yorkshire devolution deal and obtain clarity on the Government's position."

One Yorkshire are not the only group looking for clarity and some serious get round the table time. The government should heed the Councils and LGA and do what they are being asked to do speedily and with good grace. The chances that the final Brexit deal, whatever that deal may be, will please everyone are vanishingly small. It seems certain therefore that the government is going to need friends in a post Brexit world and must find them where it can. Friends in the north, well organised and pragmatic friends, friends with a history of trading horses, might be just the thing.

 

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