On 5th June Cllr Carter immediately gained our attention by giving us some impressive regional statistics. This 30 mile wide band of industrial towns and cities that runs from coast to coast, Liverpool to Hull, had a GDP higher than many countries – on a par with that of Sweden and Belgium. It exports £50 billion worth of goods, has 20 Universities, four of which are in the world’s top 100. Since the idea of devolving powers to this region was launched by George Osborne in 2011, the region has seen growth in employment (about half a million more in work), money allocated to transport and to education and a City region formed, based on Manchester with an effective elected Mayor, Andy Burnham.
Leeds has lagged behind Manchester partly because the structure of local government is more complex this side of the Pennines and more alternatives had been aired. Cllr Carter placed himself in the Leeds City Region camp rather than the whole Yorkshire model, which if adopted would make a unit larger than Scotland and would effectively federalise the UK which he did not see as desirable. He felt that Government needs to take the lead in sorting out the complexities that North Yorkshire in particular faces, as effectively that county would be split, with wealth generating towns – Skipton, Harrogate, York, Selby seen as within the Leeds City Region and thus divorced from the rest of this large, predominately rural, county. Sheffield had already allied with Doncaster, with Barnsley undecided as to where it wished to be included. He also felt that the current emphasis on Brexit was deflecting attention from all other issues – including devolution.
He spoke passionately that the whole area needs more control over its destiny especially over transport decisions and investment spending. This area should aim to match the growth experienced in the South East – not just for our benefit, but for that of the whole country – the South-east’s economy is in danger of over-heating and the area becoming over-crowded. He felt that devolution from London to a Leeds city region was essential for the growth of the region, but also that Leeds, which did large things well, needed to devolve downwards too, as they did not deal with small issues as effectively.
It was a very interesting, quite wide-ranging, introduction to the subject and in response a number of questions were asked and discussions between members went on after the meeting closed. The talk may have raised as many questions as it answered! The vote of thanks was given by Rotarian Fred Archenhold.