Yorkshire. Few regions of Europe which have such a strong sense of identity exercise so little devolved power.
I should not have been surprised, then, when eminent solicitors in Leeds proved circumspect when asked to assess the outlook for legal services in their city. A magnet for young professionals with a quality of life hymned in glossy lifestyle magazines, Leeds has a buoyant legal market whose recent growth record is a match for any other English city. But can this be sustained?
For a political class and media rooted in the south, ‘the North’ too often means Manchester, with a nodding acknowledgement of Liverpool. So it is with George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse, still ‘very much a Manchester gig’, as Gateley’s Nick Emmerson put it.
Leeds is missing out. ‘Building a Northern Powerhouse is about devolving significant powers and budgets to directly elected mayors to ensure decisions in the North are made by the North,’ says the Northern Powerhouse website. Except Leeds does not have an elected mayor. And there is certainly no ‘Mr Yorkshire’. Sir Gary Verity, CEO of Welcome to Yorkshire, comes closest, but that body is principally a tourism agency.
To describe municipal Yorkshire as a confederacy of warring fiefdoms would be to exaggerate. Yet provincial jealousies have helped stymie efforts instigated by Leeds to break the devolution deadlock. Just as ‘the North’ is not Manchester, ‘Yorkshire’ is certainly not Leeds – a sentiment that is felt very keenly indeed in places like Sheffield (which does have an elected mayor) and Bradford.
Supporters of the One Yorkshire plan, which would see widespread powers pass from Whitehall to a Yorkshire-wide mayoral authority, have called on the government to show a ‘greater sense of urgency’ amid much ministerial foot-dragging. Commercial lawyers are as frustrated as other local business people that the region has yet to get its act together on devolution.
Westminster has an even weightier devolution deal on its mind, of course, which is part of the problem. However, if Yorkshire’s biggest city is to continue vying with Manchester for the title of the north’s legal powerhouse, our roundtable’s message is clear. A little less conversation – more action please.