CBI chief backing the case for One Yorkshire
Top business leader wants devolution for whole region
If we look at global competition, scale really matters. Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry.
ONE OF Britain’s top business leaders has said a devolution settlement encompassing the whole of Yorkshire would allow the region to compete on an international scale. Carolyn Fairbairn spoke to The
Yorkshire Post before addressing the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) Yorkshire and Humber Annual dinner, where she said there needed to be a “willingness and openness from Government” and accused Ministers of “devolving powers to the regions with one hand and holding them back with the other”.
Asked what One Yorkshire would offer over separate deals for the likes of Leeds and Sheffield, Ms Fairbairn, director-general of the CBI, said: “If you look how well Yorkshire is doing with the tech investment, with the employment growth, there is a real sense of opportunity. But I think we need to recognise that, if we look at global competition, scale really matters.
“We as businesses don’t really care too much about the political model, we don’t care about the politics, but I think we care about prosperity and having sufficient economic scale for different regions for the UK to really punch their weight and succeed.”
When asked what message she had for Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry – who has repeatedly dismissed the case for One Yorkshire devolution – and the Department for Communities and Local Government overseeing the devolution process, she said: “Our message would be that businesses in this part of the UK and indeed across the Northern Powerhouse want there to be leadership at scale.
“That enables decisions to be taken which in turn enable greater prosperity.
“The benefits of there being that kind of leadership, in big enough units, which correspond more to the economic map of the UK rather than the political map, would be good for jobs, good for growth, unlock investment and build confidence at exactly the time when we have got some of the uncertainty surrounding Brexit coming to a head.”
In her speech to delegates at the University of Leeds last night, Ms Fairbairn said: “I think it’s fair to say there is concern in the business community that much of the region has fallen behind the pace. In particular, that the lack of a deal for parts of Yorkshire risks creating gaps in the Northern Powerhouse. We know that what matters for firms has not changed – business wants devolution to succeed. In the last five years, we have come a long way. But to go further, the Government has to realise that it can’t devolve power to the regions with one hand and hold them back with the other.
“What we need is a willingness and openness in government to finish what has been started – and involve firms in the process.”
An Adjournment Debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday saw Mr Berry, who is in favour of the existing Sheffield City Region deal, repeatedly clash with MPs attempting to make the case for Yorkshire-wide devolution. Mr Berry reiterated his opposition to any deal
Continued from Page 1. covering the whole region despite its being backed by as many as 17 of the region’s 20 councils.
Ms Fairbairn, who became CBI chief in 2015 and is a former nonexecutive director of Lloyds Banking Group, also had high praise for Yorkshire’s economy, particularly its tech sector, which it said had the opportunity to become the next Silicon Valley.
“Yorkshire has always been full of entrepreneurship and innovation,” she said. “And that spirit still burns. Yorkshire companies have spent 16 per cent more on R&D than last year. It’s only right that we celebrate that success – but also how more can be made of it. There has been talk of making Yorkshire a new Silicon Valley. My response is – now is the time to go for it. At the CBI, we have stood by your side through this start-up phase – and we will be by your side as you grow.
“The opportunity lies in making even more of Yorkshire’s twin engines of world-class innovation and higher education.”
She added: “We need Yorkshire’s grit and determination now more than ever. Business activity in Yorkshire is growing at its fastest rate in two years. Manufacturing output is at a three-year high. And the economy is worth an astonishing £110bn per year – that’s around twice the size of Wales and larger than 11 EU countries. So today I want to ask how we can maximise the tremendous power of Yorkshire business to improve the lives of everyone across the UK.”
On education and skills in Yorkshire, the CBI boss said: “If there is one constraint that firms tell us about again and again, it is skills. We know we have young people here who can and should have a brighter future. Yorkshire firms are stepping up to the challenge.”
A full interview with Ms Fairbairn will appear in tomorrow’s
THE OPTIMISM and ambition of CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn – “We need Yorkshire’s grit and determination now more than ever” – stands in contrast to this week’s obfuscation by the Northern Powerhouse Minister.
Unlike Jake Berry who cannot bring himself, for whatever reason, to recognise the potential of the One Yorkshire devolution model, and is intent on pressing ahead with the election of a mayor in Sheffield City Region who will have limited powers and even less public support, Ms Fairbairn does.
Addressing the CBI’s Yorkshire and Humber annual dinner, she spoke for the majority when she said this region has “fallen behind the pace” and the lack of progress on this side of the Pennines “risks creating gaps in the Northern Powerhouse”.
If she, and the recently forged coalition of the willing, can see the scale of the opportunity, why can’t Mr Berry? Didn’t he hear Theresa May at last week’s party conference when she committed herself, and her government, to the Northern Powerhouse?
More pertinently, Ms Fairbairn challenged businesses to step up to the plate after calling for “a willingness and openness in government to finish what has been started”. Though the issues are political, and complex, devolution is about the future of business – and how areas outside of London can best prosper in a global economy. And, while this newspaper applauds those local leaders trying to convince the Government to embrace the most dynamic devolution deal of all, they can only get so far – perhaps it now falls to Yorkshire’s top bosses to tell Mr Berry why his stance is so misguided.
CAROLYN FAIRBAIRN: CBI chief said Northern businesses wanted ‘leadership at scale’.