Yorkshire must be prepared for Brexit

As published in the Yorkshire Post on 14 January 2019

This week marks a crucial moment in British politics. MPs are preparing to vote on Theresa May’s negotiated EU withdrawal agreement and whatever Parliament decides, communities and businesses across Yorkshire will face challenges. But it is also clear that we will be presented with opportunities. Our region’s leaders face the urgent task of ensuring our communities are equipped to face those challenges with confidence. To do this, we must be given the resources to build strong and resilient communities – and this requires the Government to work with us.

That is why last week, I met with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, to discuss how we ensure a greater share of national infrastructure spending is invested across our region. Because for too long, Westminster and Whitehall has consistently failed to address the fact that we trail well behind many other parts of the country when it comes to public spending. Low-paid jobs, health and educational inequalities and stretched public services all point to systemic underinvestment in our communities. I share the frustration of many residents across Yorkshire not only over this lack of investment, but that we’ve almost learnt to accept it because it has been going on for so long. We mustn’t accept it. We must fight it, and we must secure greater investment.

When it comes to transport investment, the gap between our region and London is particularly stark. The consequences are clear for Yorkshire’s commuters as they board infrequent, late and overcrowded trains. The Government’s own figures show that for every pound spent on transport projects in Yorkshire and the Humber in 2017/2018, £3.20 was spent on London’s transport network – a trend that is projected to continue on the basis of planned future spend to 2021. Additionally, an IPPR North report on transport spending, released last year, showed that since the Northern Powerhouse agenda was introduced by Government in 2014, national spending on transport per person has gone up in London twice as much as it has in the North.

The figures are underpinned by a systemic unfairness in the way that funding is allocated. The current Government criteria tends to allocate funding to stronger economic areas that are likely to produce greater economic yield per pound invested. This gives areas with stronger, more resilient economies – such as in London and the South East – the edge over areas such as ours, where problems such as weaker infrastructure and poorer connectivity persist. But without the resources we need to make the significant improvements to our infrastructure, we are destined to be trapped in a self-fulfilling prophecy, in which residents across Yorkshire perpetually endure poor services.

Which is why, as we look beyond Brexit, Government must provide us with assurances that our communities will be given the crucial investment we need to face the future with certainty. So far, they have failed. Ministers promised to establish the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) to replace the loss the money that came from the EU; amounting to £2.4bn of funding to promote inclusive growth across Britain’s regions. Despite promising to consult widely on the UKSPF in 2018, Ministers have so far failed to set out even the most basic detail on how the scheme will operate.

As Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, it is my job to do all I can to ensure that our communities and businesses do not become poorer because of Brexit. I believe that we achieve much more by working together than we do by working alone – and as a region we must do just that. But it is Government’s responsibility to give us the powers and resources to be able to build local capacity that can generate economic activity and stimulate growth.

Preparing our region for Brexit should be central to every decision that local and regional leaders take – from creating good jobs to attracting investment, growing an inclusive economy and building infrastructure that is fit to support our communities and our businesses, but we can only do this with the funding and the flexibility. Make no mistake – whatever happens this week, I will be working to ensure that we are ready to face the future with confidence. That requires a firm commitment from Government to give us the tools we need to do the job.