The government must follow through on its promises on devolving power to local communities and improving transport links for the Yorkshire economy to truly thrive, the President of the CBI will say.
Speaking at a business dinner at the Millennium Gallery in Sheffield tonight, John Allan will call for Ministers to explain why the government rejected the One Yorkshire devolution proposals in order to reassure communities for the future.
Mr Allan will also reaffirm the CBI’s support for the Northern Powerhouse Rail project to boost the North’s economy and call for urgent resolution to the Brexit impasse.
On devolution in Yorkshire, Mr Allan said: “A few years ago the government promised to devolve power back to the regions – an idea that many in business applauded because we know that decisions are best taken by those closest to the effect of those decisions.
“So it’s frustrating to see that in many places, we are still no closer to being able to take the big decisions locally. The latest opportunity to devolve power to Yorkshire was the One Yorkshire deal but it has just been stymied in Whitehall.
“The One Yorkshire concept required refinement, but it was an opportunity for a devolution deal to transform this region’s economy. In fact, the government’s rejection of it in its current form has given not just Yorkshire concerns about the future of devolution, but many other places too.
“The question I’m now hearing is – if that wasn’t good enough, what is? So, the CBI is urging ministers to explain in detail why One Yorkshire didn’t pass muster.
“Let’s not forget there’s already a deal on the table for the Sheffield City Region. We know from experience metro mayors can coax more cash from Westminster…use new powers to boost economic growth and attract investment. Despite the impasse, Sheffield has recently been brilliantly successful at attracting investment.”
On improvements to transport in the North, Mr Allan will say: “Everyone knows Northern Powerhouse Rail can make a real difference to businesses and lives. Shorter journey times mean a greater number of people living within sensible distances of their jobs, fuelling productivity and economic growth.
“It means parents seeing their kids before bedtime, families eating together and making the working week about much more than the office. That’s the real prize.
“So how do we get there? If there’s one message we want to deliver to Westminster tonight, it is that we must get Northern Powerhouse Rail out of the sidings. Get it built. The North needs it. Our economy needs it and the country needs it.
“While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about HS2 too. The truth is that unless HS2 reaches Leeds and Manchester, Northern Powerhouse Rail isn’t viable. The benefits of both are clear – a better-connected North of England, supporting 850,000 jobs.
On the importance of people, Mr Allan will say:
“If we are going to survive – or even thrive – after Brexit, it will be because of our people. And that means everyone – no matter your gender, your sexuality, your class, your ethnicity.
“The gender pay gap persists and it is vital we challenge stereotypes which say that women can only do certain kinds of job. The research shows that that misconception begins early, in the classroom, so we need to address it in the classroom.
“By the age of seven, children’s gender perceptions are already cemented. Addressing that now is one of the keys to creating greater diversity in Britain’s boardrooms in future.”
On Brexit, Mr Allan will say: “It feels like we’ve been on the same Brexit roundabout for months. Watching vote after vote. Hearing the same voices making the same arguments again and again.
“At some point, we need to find a way forward and it looks like we’re down to two choices. We can take the PM’s path and agree a deal that – if nothing else – delivers tariff-free trade and transition. It’s not perfect, but we can work with it.
“The other choice on the table is more delay and more circling, perhaps only to be flung off a steeper cliff in the summer.
“CBI members I’ve spoken to are clear. Extension is better than the long-term impact of no-deal but what’s keeping them up at night is the risk that delay still leads to that bad outcome. Delay won’t unite a divided Parliament. Delay won’t build a consensus for the future.
“Our message to politicians is clear. We’re pragmatic. Unite around the PM’s deal. But if not that, unite around something else, urgently. Something the EU will agree to. And that works for the economy. Then let’s move on to the future negotiations.”