New politics? Not in West Yorkshire. Here’s how we do devolution

That's a deal

That’s a deal

Whenever you turn the telly or radio on these days, there’s some commentator or politician spouting on about how – after the Scottish vote on independence and the rise of UKIP – we’re living through an era of “new politics”.

Not in West Yorkshire, we’re not.

Here it’s business as usual.

Take devolution. Isn’t that where the “new politics” brings power closer to the people?

Not in West Yorkshire.

It’s been becoming clear over the last few weeks that devolution in West Yorkshire is nothing more than a deal cooked up behind closed doors between a remote Westminster and the remote authorities who speak and act for the people of West Yorkshire.

And there will be no public debate prior to the deal being done.

As Simon Cooke revealed yesterday, it turns out that a small cabal of senior councillors and business leaders have written to Westminster, pitching their ideas (and conditions) about how West Yorkshire should be governed under the new deal.

We know what they want: that any new powers are devolved not to an elected mayor or a new assembly, but to them – to the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (a political body that no-one in West Yorkshire has heard of) and to the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (an unelected body that meets in private and that no-one has heard of either).

It’s not just that there’s been no debate in Bradford or Wakefield or Leeds or York or Huddersfield about what their plans for us mean, we don’t even get to see the document that they’ve written in our name and sent to Westminster.

According to Cooke, it has been circulated to a narrow group of local politicians and business people marked “Private and Confidential – Not for Public Circulation”.

That is how we do devolution in West Yorkshire: we keep the public out.

The deal could well be announced in two weeks time. And that will be that.

That’s the “new politics” for you … Yorkshire-style.

(Post-script Saturday 22nd November: I asked Leeds City Council’s chief exec Tom Riordan about the document on Twitter. I’ll update the story later once I understand what his response means. If you’re on Twitter, you can check his timeline and try and work it out for yourself)

(A further post-script Saturday: I’ve written an open letter to the West Yorkshire Combined Authority asking them to explain themselves. You can see the letter here. If you care about this stuff, please pass it on)


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3 Responses to New politics? Not in West Yorkshire. Here’s how we do devolution

  1. Stuart Bruce says:

    Hopefully you’re wrong on this. I’m a passionate advocate of greater devolution, which isn’t actually what is on offer in the Manchester region as far too little is being devolved and it isn’t real fiscal devolution. The West Yorkshire Combined Authority and the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership are both totally unsuitable to receive extra powers as neither is directly democratically accountable.

    I think there are some excellent councillors on the combined authority who are very talented. And some I would count as friends. People I would probably vote for if they stood for it democratically. But I will not support giving extra powers to a body that isn’t directly accountable to voters. It is chosen from a select rank of senior councillors and given that council leaders aren’t even elected democratically by their own party members (but chosen by a fellow councillors) they definitely aren’t democratic or accountable.

    Accepting this compromise deal simply makes it harder to achieve real devolution. If true it’s a disgrace and those guilty should hang their heads in shame. In fact they should resign for betraying the people of West Yorkshire.

  2. Paul Thomas says:

    It’s less “new politics” than “new bureaucracy”, in the sense that the political class are trying to resolve a fundamental political problem – their lack of political ideas – through technical and bureaucratic means: whether regional assemblies, elected mayors, elected police commissioners, lowering the voting age, or the Alternative Vote – many of which have already been rejected by an electorate that never demanded them in the first place.

    And not only is the whole devolution bandwagon is less than inspiring, it seems more a recipe for parochialism the divisiveness. For example, at a recent post-Scottish Referendum meeting at the Civic Hall on UK devolution, one academic argued that people in the south are “different” than people in the north – without, of course, explaining exactly what that difference was that would warrant a withdrawal from national to local politics.

    Whether decisions are made locally or nationally is less important than what those decisions are and the ideas that inform them. Without strong competing visions of the future, no amount of playing around with the electoral system will resolve the contemporary disengagement and disillusionment with politics.

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