Gerald Jennings shares his thoughts on West Yorkshire Devolution.
So the game is afoot and West Yorkshire will have an elected Mayor in May 2021.
All business organisations have welcomed the agreement to move to a Devolved Authority in our region and none more so than the Chamber of Commerce. I have been a Director of the West and North Yorkshire Chamber for 6 years and during that time we have been consistent supports of, and agitators for, devolution. Having been both the President of the Leeds Chamber and Chairman of the West and North Yorkshire Chamber I have always believed devolution was key to the future. West Yorkshire is a big part of the answer to the future success of UK Plc.
The opportunities Devolution bring need to be taken and we need to act with pace.
We’ve all heard how centralised the UK is, with key powers and funding sitting in Westminster and Whitehall. The keys to the money room have been jealously guarded by central politicians and civil servants. So having decision makers close to home, with access to funding and the powers to make a difference on issues they know and “feel” in a geography which is theirs and which they know- not only intuitively but also empirically- can only be beneficial. We can get a bigger bang for our buck.
We need passion, commitment and enthusiasm combined with the local and regional skills and expertise we have to direct our own future. And to be aspirational and ambitious in doing so. We need to excite all those who live, work and play in West Yorkshire. We need to showcase what we have here and seek to attract the best talent and skills to join us. With a loud and proud regional voice we can ensure we set the vison and strategic objectives needed to drive our economy.
As a devolved authority we can get to grips with the skills gaps we have and improve educational standards, so that we have a workforce that aligns with business needs now and in the future. That is even more important as we come out of the current pandemic and we start to see how the world will change. In order to address our skills gaps and to retrain the workforce we need to invest in Further Education and apprenticeships. On issues such as skills, and specifically on the Apprenticeship Levy, whilst work is underway to encourage businesses to spend locally on training initiatives, the Mayor can play an important role in amplifying that message. Going one step further, the Mayor, can bring together sector leads to ensure collaboration on local training spend and ensure a more holistic approach to the skills agenda.
Devolution in the region can help us shape the transport and housing needs of West Yorkshire. Specifically on transport within the Devolution deal there is a commitment to develop modern mass-transit system and £317m to invest in public transport. We know that access to markets and skills has been holding us back and having a modern infrastructure is vital. Local, regional and national connectivity needs investment and specific reference to Leeds and Bradford transport projects in the deal are good examples of targeted investment.
There must be a collective and collaborative approach such that the elected Mayor works with Business as an integrated and trusted partner. Too often Business has been seen as a consultee not as a joint partner.
An economic and spatial strategy should look to focus on the drivers of productivity, including education and skills, connectivity, innovation and exporting, and business practices. It must also consider how to drive inclusive growth and wellbeing and it must reflect the evidence and asks within the Local Industrial Strategy, to build on local strengths and develop a clear narrative for the region. The economic and spatial strategy with a regional approach to Housing, Skills and Transport can provide the certainty needed to attract private investment and development to the region, from local, national, and international partners.
Capturing, not stifling ingenuity, the collaborative spirit and entrepreneurialism which exists right across the region and channelling it towards good growth will be key to ensuring devolution in West Yorkshire is a success.