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!”

 
 
 
 

To make electric vehicles happen, the government must devolve energy policy to councils

The future. Image: Getty.

Last week, the Guardian revealed that at least a quarter of councils have halted the roll-out of electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure with no plans to resume its installation. This is a fully charged battery-worth of miles short of ideal, given the ambitious decarbonisation targets to which the UK is rightly working.

It’s even more startling given the current focus on inclusive growth, for the switch to EVs is an economic advancement, on an individual and societal level. Decarbonisation will free up resources and push growth, but the way in which we go about it will have impacts for generations after the task is complete.

If there is one lesson that has been not so much taught to us as screamed at us by recent history, it is that the market does not deliver inclusivity by itself. Left to its own devices, the market tends to leave people behind. And people left behind make all kinds of rational decisions, in polling stations and elsewhere that can seem wholly irrational to those charged with keeping pace – as illuminted in Jeremy Harding’s despatch from the ‘periphery’ which has incubated France’s ‘gilet jaunes’ in the London Review of Books.

But what in the name of Nikola Tesla has any of this to do with charging stations? The Localis argument is simple: local government must work strategically with energy network providers to ensure that EV charging stations are rolled out equally across areas, to ensure deprived areas do not face further disadvantage in the switch to EVs. To do so, Ofgem must first devolve certain regulations around energy supply and management to our combined authorities and city regions.


Although it might make sense now to invest in wealthier areas where EVs are already present, if there isn’t infrastructure in place ahead of demand elsewhere, then we risk a ‘tale of two cities’, where decarbonisation is two-speed and its benefits are two-tier.

The Department for Transport (DfT) announced on Monday that urban mobility will be an issue for overarching and intelligent strategy moving forward. The issue of fairness must be central to any such strategy, lest it just become a case of more nice things in nice places and a further widening of the social gap in our cities.

This is where the local state comes in. To achieve clean transport across a city, more is needed than just the installation of charging points.  Collaboration must be coordinated between many of a place’s moving parts.

The DfT announcement makes much of open data, which is undoubtedly crucial to realising the goal of a smart city. This awareness of digital infrastructure must also be matched by upgrades to physical infrastructure, if we are going to realise the full network effects of an integrated city, and as we argue in detail in our recent report, it is here that inclusivity can be stitched firmly into the fabric.

Councils know the ins and outs of deprivation within their boundaries and are uniquely placed to bring together stakeholders from across sectors to devise and implement inclusive transport strategy. In the switch to EVs and in the wider Future of Mobility, they must stay a major player in the game.

As transport minister and biographer of Edmund Burke, Jesse Norman has been keen to stress the founding Conservative philosopher’s belief in the duty of those living in the present to respect the traditions of the past and keep this legacy alive for their own successors.

If this is to be a Burkean moment in making the leap to the transformative transport systems of the future, Mr Norman should give due attention to local government’s role as “little platoons” in this process: as committed agents of change whose civic responsibility and knowledge of place can make this mobility revolution happen.

Joe Fyans is head of research at the think tank Localis.