Three reasons a Yorkshire devolution deal probably isn't going to happen

The Ribblehead Viaduct: emphatically not part of the Leeds City Region. Image: Getty.

The ancient English county of Yorkshire contains more people than Scotland, and an economy worth twice that of Wales. Consequently, there are those who believe that it deserves its own political identity.

There’s a Yorkshire Party (formerly Yorkshire First), which aspires to be a sort of SNP-of-the-dales. And, because no English devolution can ever take place without involving at least two warring factions, there’s also the Yorkshire Devolution Movement, which used this year’s Yorkshire Day (1 August, of course) to launch its campaign for a Yorkshire Parliament.

Both are, I fear, whistling in the wind.

There’s nothing inherently ridiculous about the idea of a Yorkshire-based devolution deal, of course: more than 5m people live in the county, which is more than enough to constitute a small country, let alone a regional government. We might even have had a Yorkshire Parliament already, if only proposals for regional assemblies hadn’t been so comprehensively shot down in 2004.

So why my cynicism? Am I just another uppity Londoner trying to keep god’s own country in its place?

Well, possibly. (I do hate parkin.) But I have three more solid reasons, too.

It’s the economy, stupid

The current round of devolution deals, which was started by George Osborne and which may or may not continue now he’s history, has generally focused on economically coherent units: city-regions or smaller counties, whose identities come as much from commuting patterns as from boundaries dating back to King Alfred.

Two deals didn’t do this. The North East deal covered almost an entire government region (Teeside got its own deal). The East Anglian one originally included both the M11-Cambridge corridor (in which the population looks south to London), and Norfolk and Suffolk (in which they don’t).

Both have since collapsed. That suggests it’s easier to get diverse councils to put their differences aside and agree on a deal when they can see themselves as a single economic unit, with something to gain from working together. It’s far from clear Yorkshire does.

A block in the pipe

So far, the most visible result of the campaign for Yorkshire-wide devolution has been a negative one: to stop Leeds from getting a deal.

Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool are all getting set for their own metro mayors next year. Leeds isn’t, because no one in Yorkshire could agree on what a Yorkshire deal should look like.

The Labour-led West Yorkshire councils – Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield and so forth – got behind a Leeds City Region deal. But local Tories, frightened of handing local power to the Labour opposition, lined up with the more rural North Yorkshire and East Riding councils to call for a “Greater Yorkshire” arrangement, which would have subsumed Leeds into a single deal covering most of historic Yorkshire.

Result: deadlock, and no deal.

The problem of Sheffield

Actually, that’s not quite true: one bit of Yorkshire may very well get a devolution deal, and is working with bits of neighbouring counties to get it. The Sheffield City Region doesn’t only include Sheffield proper, but the neighbouring cities with which it once shared South Yorkshire (Doncaster, Rotherham, Barnsley etc.), as well as the parts of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire that are economically connected to it.

Not everyone is happy about this. Derbyshire County Council is a bit miffed about being cruelly abandoned by Chesterfield and its lovely business rates, so is threatening legal action to block the deal.

Nonetheless, there’s a pretty good chance that the Sheffield City Region will happen. A large and heavily populated bit of Yorkshire has decided to pursue its own devolution deal in partnership with places that aren’t in Yorkshire at all.

Traitors to the rose, the lot of them.

So – the Yorkshire Party and the Yorkshire Devolution Movement can hang on for an all-Yorkshire deal all they like. But it probably isn’t going to happen, probably wouldn’t work if it did, and anyway a chunk of the county has made other plans.

Given all that one has to wonder – was it really worth leaving poor old Leeds out in the cold?

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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Which British cities have the bestest ultrafast broadband?

Oooh, fibre. Image: Getty.

The latest instalment of our series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain’s cities. 

Between the dark web, Breitbard News and Donald Trump's Twitter feed, it's abundantly clear that terrible things often happen on the internet. But good things happen here, too - like funny videos and kitten pictures and, though we say so ourselves, CityMetric. 

Anyway. The government clearly believes the internet is on balance a good thing, so it's investing more in improving Britain's broadband coverage. But which cities need the most work?

Luckily, those ultrafast cats at the Centre for Cities are on hand with a map of Britain's ultrafast broadband coverage, as it stood at the end of 2016. It shows the percentage of premises which have access to download speeds of 100Mbps or more. Dark green means loas, pale yellow means hardly any. Here's the map:

Some observations...

This doesn't quite fit the pattern we normally get with these exercises in which the south of England and a few other rich cities (Edinburgh, Aberdeen, York) look a lot healthier than the cities of the Midlands, South Wales and the North.

There are elements of that, sure: there are definitely more southern cities with good coverage, and more northern onse without it. But there are notable exceptions to the pattern, too. Those cities with very good coverage include Middlesbrough (88.0 per cent) and Dundee (89.4 per cent), not normally to be found near the top of anyone's rankings. 

Meanwhile, Milton Keynes - a positive boom town, on most measures - lingers right near the bottom of the chart, with just 12.9 per cent coverage. The only city with worse coverage is another city that normally ranks as rich and succesful: the Socttish oil capital Aberdeen, where coverage is just 0.13 per cent, a figure so low it rings alarm bells about the data. 

Here's a (slightly cramped) chart of the same data. 

Click to expand.

If you can spot a patten, you're a better nerd than I.

One thought I had was that perhaps there might be some correlation with population: perhaps bigger cities, being bigger markets, find it easier to get the requisite infrastructure built.

I removed London, Manchester and Birmingham from the data, purely because those three - especially the capital - are so much bgiger than the other cities that they make the graph almost unreadable. That don't, here's the result.

So, there goes that theory.

In all honesty, I'm not sure what could explain this disparity: why Sheffield and Southand should have half the broadband coverage of Middlesbrough or Brighton. But I suspect it's a tempory measure. 

All this talk of ultranfast broadband (100Mbps+), after all, superseded that of mere superfast broadband (just 24Mbps+). The figures in this dataset are 10 months old. It's possible that many of the left behind cities have caught up by now. But it's almost certain we'll be hearing about the need for, say, Hyperfast broadband before next year is out.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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