Daniel Goodwin, Senior Associate Fellow
The Hull Commission’s final report was published on 13th January 2016 and was widely reported in regional media. The independent Commission, which was facilitated by INLOGOV, said that a fresh joint approach to economic development and local government organisation is needed in Hull and the East Riding. It found that Hull and the East Riding are interconnected and should seek a fresh way forward together and that the two areas often pull in different directions when they should be managed as one system. A new outward looking approach is needed if the area as a whole is to make the most of the opportunities available from devolution and the Northern Powerhouse.
The Commission was asked to review the effects of the existing boundary on the city and sub-region. The existing boundary has the effect of making Hull look like a small city of 256,000, with up to 240,000 people and 2,700 businesses left out of the picture. Given the real size of its travel to work area and economy ‘Greater Hull’ should be considered as being a city of around 500,000. The boundary significantly skews not only statistics and the way the area is perceived but works against the ability of the city and sub-region to function effectively as a single economic unit.
One possible way forward would be to move the boundary further into the East Riding. However, the Commission took the view that this would be highly unpopular, could well make the remainder of the East Riding unviable and, in any case, is probably impossible under current Boundary Commission rules.
The Commission therefore concluded that the only logical solution to the boundary issue would be to merge the two local authorities. This would make it far easier to join up economic development and infrastructure strategies and develop more effective arrangements for health and social care commissioning. Furthermore, complete removal of the boundary would achieve a political balance and overcome some of the reasons behind public opposition to redrawing it. The Commission also noted the political realities that make this logical solution a probable non-starter in the immediate future, and the need to take account of the rapidly developing Government agenda on devolution and the Northern Powerhouse.
The Commission was required to consider ways in which local government in Hull and the East Riding might better meet the goals of being effective, efficient and accountable. The devolution agenda has moved very swiftly, yet Hull and the East Riding are still not part of devolved arrangements such as those in Greater Manchester and the Sheffield City Region, pooling expertise on growth and infrastructure, with greater powers to make positive change happen. The Commission considered that this must be urgently addressed.
Furthermore, with the Northern Powerhouse and Enterprise Zone developments in mind, the Commission believes that there is a powerful case for a Combined Authority based on the Humber, providing focus for the development of the economy, distribution networks, infrastructure and environmental matters centred on it. It found that political animosities have stood in the way of progress on this option in the recent past. If at all possible they should be addressed and the possibility of a Humber Combined Authority brought back onto the table. The Commission considered that that appropriate consultation with business and a full public debate would make it possible and reflected this in its recommendations.
The Commission heard that there is a possibility that Hull will become a partner, without the East Riding, in the West Yorkshire Combined Authority. It considered this to be a poor outcome because it neglects the economic significance of the Humber, leaves Hull as a small, junior partner and cements the boundary problem further. It also heard that the East Riding is in active discussions with North Yorkshire and York about a North Yorkshire Combined Authority. This would present a similarly poor outcome because it would take the “Greater Hull” business rates with it into a different pool, splitting the economic development and infrastructure planning further away from Hull. Given all the above, the Commission concluded that Hull and the East Riding must be managed as one system, not two. This would provide the area with a much more powerful voice in any Combined Authority arrangements. This view was endorsed by 30 leaders from business, public and community sectors who met to discuss the report. The group was very supportive of the Commission’s concern to support the economic opportunities of the Humber and to ensure that Hull and the East Riding stay together in any future devolved arrangements.
There was also concern not only that the area should in future look outward to the national and international stage but also that local community identity should be respected, whilst ensuring that the Humber develops positively for all who live work and study here.
There was real concern that Yorkshire as a whole is missing out by not coming to an agreement with government about future devolution arrangements. The group wanted local politicians to exhibit a greater sense of urgency and to work together to resolve a positive way forward.
Further information and links to sources may be found through the Commission’s pages on INLOGOV’s website at: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/government-society/departments/local-government-studies/research/hull-commission.aspx
Daniel has worked in local government for over 30 years in a range of councils and was previously Executive Director of Finance and Policy at the Local Government Association and Chief Executive of St Albans City & District Council. He is an INLOGOV Senior Associate Fellow, contributing to thinking, learning and action in local leadership and services, the wider public sector and beyond. Daniel has a Masters in Public Administration from Warwick Business School and is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.