David Parkin on a devolution dead parrot and the event that sells out quicker than Take That

THE stand off between the Government and a majority of Yorkshire councils over regional devolution is starting to resemble Monty Python’s dead parrot sketch.

You remember the one – where customer John Cleese has bought a parrot which is dead but pet shop owner Michael Palin is trying to convince him it is alive.

It strikes me that’s how the debate over devolving more powers to Yorkshire is going.

The Government has said it wants ‘devo’ deals centred around city regions and has committed to backing one for Sheffield.

The only problem is that after squabbling between themselves for years, 17 Yorkshire councils have now decided they all want to work together and have drawn back from a deal based around the Leeds City Region and have proposed a ‘One Yorkshire’ plan.

Barnsley and Doncaster councils have walked away from a Sheffield city region devolution deal to join the One Yorkshire “coalition of the willing”, leaving Sheffield and Rotherham councils standing like worried party hosts, wondering whether anyone will turn up to join them.

The Government has indicated it will still back the plans for South Yorkshire and is currently resisting the One Yorkshire proposal.

It prompted Keighley Labour MP John Grogan to table a debate in the House of Commons the other night calling for the Government to change its stance.

He said it was time for Yorkshire to receive long-awaited devolved powers and a £150m annual budget as well as an elected mayor.

Mr Grogan said a so-called One Yorkshire deal would create the second most powerful mayor in the UK after Sadiq Khan in London.

John Grogan is secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Yorkshire but reports suggested a majority of the region’s MPs didn’t even bother to turn up to the debate.

He’d probably be better off concentrating on his other role as chair of the Mongolian-British Chamber of Commerce.

The 17 councils that came up with the One Yorkshire plan might still be congratulating themselves on getting an agreement, but if the Government won’t back it, then what’s the point?

As one senior figure in business in the North said to me at last night’s CBI Yorkshire annual dinner: “I may only have a rudimentary grasp of politics, but I was led to believe that it was the Government in charge, not local councils.”

And while Yorkshire devolution is not yet as dead as John Cleese’s Norwegian Blue, you can bet the continuing stand-off will do no favours to the region’s economy, the very thing that devolution is aimed at boosting.

It does all resemble a comedy sketch.

I just can’t see anyone laughing.

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IF a regional devolution deal for Yorkshire does eventually get agreed then the next argument will be over who should be its mayor.

I was sent an article from the Daily Mail this week which said that plans to make Yorkshire “a country within a country” meant that it should have its own king, suggesting Geoffrey Boycott would be perfect.

That’s just about the kind of measured clear-thinking you expect from that newspaper.

If Geoff Boycott became king of Yorkshire then it would probably be twinned with North Korea.

The problem that the Conservatives and Labour have is that the best and most qualified candidates either party could propose for mayor of Yorkshire are no longer involved in politics.

Former Tory party leader and Foreign Secretary William Hague and former Labour Home Secretary and trade secretary Alan Johnson have both stepped down as MPs and are enjoying life away from Westminster.

Johnson was the guest speaker at last night’s CBI Yorkshire annual dinner at the University of Leeds and his entertaining speech underlined why he would be an ideal mayor.

He was funny, intelligent, self-deprecating, open-minded and willing to give credit to political opponents – everything Jeremy Corbyn isn’t.

“The last time I was at this university I was at an Amnesty International event where we read extracts from writers who had been imprisoned in their own country,” Johnson told the audience.

“I read some Jeffrey Archer.”

Assessing the international landscape of the US, Russia, North Korea, the Middle East and Brexit Britain, he said it reminded him of a saying: “The problem with this world is that fools and fanatics are so sure of themselves and wiser men are so full of doubt.”

He said the recent Labour and Conservative party conferences had been dominated by cult and craziness.

“You had the Moonies at the Labour conference and the Krankies at the Tory one.”

Getting serious for a moment, he said he was still backing his tip that David Davis will be Conservative Party leader by January 2018.

Davis was the neighbouring MP to Johnson’s old Hull constituency and he clearly has a high degree of respect for his old rival.

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LIKE most things in life as you get older, things never seem as good as they used to be.

Last night’s CBI Yorkshire dinner was held in the refectory of the University of Leeds – guests had to dodge Deliveroo cyclists as they arrived at the venue and the walk to the toilets was through a lounge where students where playing ping pong – where it has been held several times before.

A quick glance around the room confirmed there were 29 tables, so less than 300 guests attended.

The last time I was at the same dinner at the same venue there were 50-plus tables.

“It isn’t like your day,” I said to the newly slimline Andrew Palmer, the former director of the CBI in Yorkshire who is now running the North of England Excellence organisation.

Andrew was far too polite and diplomatic to respond, but it does reflect a trend that business organisations like the CBI, the IoD and chambers of commerce are facing.

Their dinners, on the whole, have become crashingly dull and people can find better things to do with their time than put on a dinner suit or a flouncy frock and go and make small talk and listen to boring speeches or watch a succession of awards given out.

Mind you, I still enjoyed last night’s dinner as I was a guest of Karen Swainston and Caroline Pullich of Barclays – the Cagney and Lacey of regional banking.

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“THIS cup of tea is free of charge,” said the lady serving me in a Pret a Manger sandwich shop in Manchester this week.

“Is there any particular reason for that?” I asked, somewhat suspiciously.

“No, none at all, it’s just that every so often we are allowed to give a drink away on the house, just to make somebody smile.”

It certainly made me smile and I’m sure I was just that bit nicer to people for the rest of the day.

It is a simple and relatively low cost gesture by Pret a Manger, but it is a great lesson in customer service which others could learn from and fair play to them for it.

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“WE sell out quicker than Take That.”

That was the boast of Howard Matthews, one of the founders of the Harrogate Business Lunch which celebrated its 20th birthday last week.

And it is no idle boast either by Howard, who looks just like Gary Barlow…if Gary was a middle aged accountant from North Yorkshire.

The lunch, held at the Pavilions venue on the Yorkshire Showground, is held three times a year and attracts a sell-out 500-strong attendance at every one.

Its unique mix of basic but edible food, competitively priced Ugandan chardonnay and a big name speaker attracts an audience of financiers, insolvency practitioners, lawyers, property professionals and recruiters with personality (OK, I think I saw one there), from across Yorkshire.

Well I say big name speakers.

Last week’s guest speaker was lawyer turned comedy writer and chat show host Clive Anderson who was an engaging and very funny performer.

Last time I went it was Barry from Eastenders, so you can’t have it all.

He opened by shouting “Janine!”, closed by shouting “Janine!” and told some forgettable jokes in between.

The only one I remember is: “My dad is 92 and stains furniture. Well you do at that age.”

Clive Anderson, fresh from presenting a live version of his old Channel Four comedy improvisational show Who’s Line Is It Anyway at the Edinburgh Fringe, was better value.

He revealed he is often mistaken for William Hague and so audiences expect more of him than a few jokes.

“So I’m as nervous as a West Country badger with a chesty cough,” he admitted.

He said that we live in a fast moving world where so much changes so fast.

“A year ago we had no idea how Brexit was going to work. And now….”

His former legal career provides plenty of opportunity for laughs.

After Anderson gazed around the room for a moment, he paused and said: “I used to be a criminal lawyer…and it is great to see so many former clients here today.”

But you can’t criticise all those in the legal profession, he said.

“90% of lawyers give the others a bad name.”

I was a guest of Dave Jones and Tom Flannery of fast-growing alternative funder Reward Finance Group

Their newest recruit, commercial director Gemma Wright, was also on the table and her arrival at Reward is something of a reunion given she used to work with the pair at Euro Sales Finance a few years ago.

Dave and Tom had recently returned from a water sports trip to Puerto Banus.

I always thought the marina near Marbella was a popular destination for fishing.

A lawyer I know told me he definitely caught something the last time he was in Puerto Banus.

Have a great weekend.

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