To make devolution work, what Yorkshire needs is a common enemy

Communities secretary Sajid Javid. Image: Getty.

About 30 years ago the comedian Nick Reville had a comedy routine about Yorkshire people. It went something like this.

The locals were enjoying a pint down their pub in Castleford last Friday night. Everything is fine until a group of lads from the pub across the road walked in. The regulars didn’t like this, and after a few words a fight started.

It was getting serious until the door opened. Everyone froze: another group had arrived. These blokes were from a pub on the next street. Perceiving a new threat, they suddenly realised that they were from the same street, joined forces and took the fight to the outsiders.

Ten minutes later with the scrap in full swing the doors open again. A group from Pontefract walk in. The “they aren’t from round here” mentality kicks in, unifies the crowd and they set on the Ponte lads. 

As things are getting out of hand another group walks in.

“Where are you t**ts from?”

“Leeds, what it’s to you?”

The Cass and Ponte thugs join forces against the big city t**ts.


And so on, through Manchester, London, France, USA until finally some Aliens arrive and the Friday night drinkers of the earth unite in a pub in Castleford for a bar fight with the outsiders.

It was a very funny routine, it’ll be online somewhere.

A couple of weeks back, this came back to mind as the Yorkshire Devo deals hotted up.

I’ve not followed the ins and out of the Yorkshire devolution close enough give a detailed description. There are many different options moving on and off the table. Leeds City Region (LCR), Sheffield City Region (SCR), Greater Yorkshire and One Yorkshire.  Greater Yorkshire appears to be North, East and West Yorkshire lumping together without South Yorkshire. SCR will be its own devo deal. One Yorkshire is everybody in together.

According to James Read of the Yorkshire Post, two councils support SCR (Sheffield and Rotherham), 16 support One Yorkshire, one wants Greater Yorkshire (Harrogate) and Wakefield is undeclared.

The usual Yorkshire in fighting, you could say – or as David Cameron infamously said. The reason why the old comedy routine came to mind is because it offers a solution.

In the pub, it was always the outsider that created the threat that achieved the improbable unity. What Yorkshire needs is an outsider to walk through the door and cause the Yorkshire councils to fight a common enemy.

Helpfully, Sajid Javid did just that. The communities secretary recently wrote a letter to Yorkshire MPs letting them know how he wanted things to pan out.

Yorkshires response should be:

“Where are you from? Westminster? What do you think you’re doing round here? Come on lads, get him!”

 
 
 
 

Can you have capitalism without capital? Brighton, Ankara, Ghent and the intangible economy

The Fusebox, Brighton. Image: WiredSussex.

As you head north out of Brighton on the A23 things take a distinctly granular turn. The cool bars and trendy eateries give way to second-hand shops and nail bars.

Looming over the area, New England House, an eight-storey brutalist office block, is home to Wired Sussex, a collection of digital and media companies, as well as its offshoot The Fusebox. Here, a collection of entrepreneurs, tech visionaries and creative technologists are seeking to transform their ideas into successful businesses. This island of cutting-edge thinking, surrounded by the evidence of the glaring consequences of austerity, could stand as a synecdoche for the suddenly vogueish concept of the “intangible economy”.

Towards the end of last year, on Radio 4’s Start The Week, Jonathan Haskel, author of Capitalism Without Capital, laid out the features of this brave new economy. The ideas are scalable, have sunk costs, their benefits spill over, and they have synergies with other intangible assets. All of these things are, to a greater or lesser extent, attributes featured in the virtual reality games, apps for care home workers, and e-commerce ideas mapped out by the bright sparks in the Fusebox.

Its manager, Rosalie Hoskins, explains that it exists to support the work of small companies doing creative work. Within these clean white walls they can bounce their ideas off each other and reap the fruits of collaboration. “We’ll provide the doors,” she says. But “it’s up to them to open them.”

One innovative thinker hoping to make her entrance is Maf’j Alvarez. She tells me she studied for a masters in digital media arts at the University of Brighton, and describes herself as an ‘interactive artist’. “Right now I am playing with virtual reality,” she tells me. “There’s a lot of physics involved in the project which explores weight and light. It definitely has a practical application and commercial potential. VR can be used to help people with dementia and also as a learning tool for young people.”

The Fusebox, she says, is “about collaboration. The residents of the Fusebox are in all a similar situation.”

The willingness to work together, identified by Haskell as a key element of the intangible economy, is evident in the Fusebox’s partnership with like minded innovators in Ankara. Direnç Erşahin from İstasyon, a centre for “social incubation” based in the Turkish capital, visited the Fusebox toward the end of last year.

“It was a good opportunity to exchange knowledge about the practice of running a creative hub – managing the place, building a community and so on,” he says.

Erşahin and his colleagues have launched a fact-checking platform – teyit.org – which he believes will provide “access to true information”. The co-operation between the Fusebox in Brighton and İstasyon in Ankara  is “a good opportunity to reinforce a data-oriented approach and university and society interaction,” he argues.

But the interaction between wider society and the denizens of the intangible world is often marked by friction and, ironically, a failure of communication.

This point is underlined by Aral Balkan, who runs a company called indie.ie which aims to develop ethical technologies. “There’s a good reason we have a trust problem,” he says. “It’s because people in mainstream technology companies have acted in ways that have violated our trust. They have developed systems that prey upon individuals rather than empowering them.”

A former Brighton resident, Balkan is almost a walking definition of Theresa May’s “citizen of nowhere”. He is a regular speaker on the TED and digital circuits, and I crossed paths frequently with him when I covered the industry for Brighton’s local newspaper. He left the city last year, chiefly, he tells me, in protest over the UK government’s overweening “snooper’s charter” laws.


He has Turkish and French citizenship and is now based in Malmö, Sweden, while working with the city of Ghent on a radical redevelopment of the internet. “Ghent is a beautiful example of how location affects the work,” he tells me. “They don’t want to be a smart city, they want to encourage smart citizens. We are exploring alternatives.”

Karl-Filip Coenegrachts, chief strategy officer at the City of Ghent, is another believer in the synergies made possible by the intangible economy. “The historic perspective has impacted on the psychology and DNA of the city,” he says. “The medieval castle built to protect the nobility from the citizens not the other way around. People in Ghent want to have their say.”

Left out of this perspective, of course, are those who cannot make their voice heard or who feel they are being ignored. The fissures are easy to find if you look. The future of Belgium’s coalition government, for example, is threatened by Flemish nationalists in the wake of a scandal over the forced repatriation of 100 Sudanese migrants. In Ankara, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has purged local government and continues to stamp on any dissent.

In the UK, the gig economy makes headlines for all the wrong reasons. Back in the area around the Fusebox, the sharp observer will notice, alongside the homeless people curled up in sleeping bags in charity shop doorways, a stream of gig-worker bikers zooming from one order to another.

The intangible economy throws up all-too tangible downsides, according to Maggie Dewhurst, vice chair at the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain. She gives short shrift to the idea of ‘capitalism without capital’.

“It does get a bit irritating when they muddy the waters and use pseudo academic definitions. They pretend tangible assets don’t exist or are free.”

In fact, she adds, “The workers are a human resource.”