The ceiling for Yorkshire – and the north as a whole – must be lifted

Yorkshire: without a doubt one of the UK’s finest counties (as a proud Derbyshire-man, I’m afraid my home county takes the top spot). Having studied and worked there, it’s something I can attest to.

Business confidence is booming, and it is clear there that Yorkshire is on the rise. Business leaders and residents across Yorkshire cities are proud of their home and eager to prove why. Yorkshire cities like Sheffield, Leeds, and Hull thrived during the industrial revolution, during which those cities expanded significantly. Now, as we celebrated Yorkshire Day yesterday, the county is firmly looking towards the future.

Over the past 20 years, Yorkshire and the Humber have steadily diversified their economy, away from its traditional industries, towards embracing high growth areas. Leeds, for example, is fast becoming one of Britain’s most important tech hubs, while Hull is eager to embrace the same opportunities with great support for start-ups.

Yet the ceiling for Yorkshire, and the rest of the north more broadly, can be lifted higher still. In his recent inaugural speech, Boris Johnson backed the call for free ports in the UK – a policy backed in detail by Rishi Sunak, the new chief secretary to the Treasury in a 2016 report by our friends at the Centre for Policy Studies. Such a policy would be a great boon for Yorkshire.

A free port is effectively an area where goods can be imported, manufactured, or re-exported without incurring taxation. By creating a safe harbour from taxes, we can boost the local economy significantly by attracting investment and jobs. In Sunak’s 2016 report, he suggests that such a policy could be used to rebalance the British economy to draw greater investment to the north.

Furthermore, a 2018 report found that integrating free ports with enterprise zones would add £4.7bn a year to the economy of Yorkshire and the Humber, and create up to 80,000 high-value jobs.

Combine this with other leading proposals to boost the north, such as a high-speed rail line running across the north, and it starts to seem like the long-touted northern powerhouse project might finally be coming to fruition. A leading entry in the Taxpayers’ Alliance’s recent Great British Transport Competition, this would be of massive benefit to the north and is vital to realise the ambitions of the Northern Powerhouse.

Finally, West Yorkshire has proven just how beneficial greater devolution can be. Since the formation of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, the area has been granted much greater spending powers (notably over transport). That means decisions can be made at the local level rather than by central government. This has enabled the authority to invest great amounts in local transport and attract millions in investment. 

The authority could go further still and become a unitary authority, setting an example for the rest of Yorkshire. If the multiple district councils that make up the combined authority were to merge into one unitary, they would be able to deliver significant cost savings and enable better long-term strategic planning. Subject to certain other conditions that my colleague Duncan Simpson describes in a recent paper on the subject and pending backing from local residents, this would be a boon to local taxpayers.

Greater devolution, improved local administration, free ports, and new rail infrastructure are just the sort of boost Yorkshire and the north need. If the new government are serious about turbo-charging the British economy, Yorkshire is ripe with potential and a great place to start.

Written by Jeremy Hutton

Jeremy Hutton is a Policy Analyst at the TaxPayers' Alliance. He graduated from the University of York in 2018 with an MA in International Relations and is passionate about British foreign policy issues pertaining to trade, development and defence.
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