Building a new Yorkshire – are citizens’ assemblies a way forward?

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Charlie McCarthy argues a citizens’ assembly for Yorkshire would help revitalise and level up the region as we emerge from the coronavirus lockdown.

Brexit has already cost the UK economy £130 billion, shrinking three per cent since the referendum. Putting this into figures we can more easily relate to: EU membership cost 34p per person per day; Brexit since 2016 has cost 91p per person per day.

Then came Covid-19.

The economy is collapsing at a record pace and now must brace itself for “a recession of unprecedented scale and depth’” according to the Financial Times. The report states that business activity in March 2020 dropped to its lowest level in over 20 years. As the lockdown continues to bite, a similar picture is emerging worldwide. Oxford Economics, using its Global Economic Model, forecasts that global gross domestic product will fall 2.8 per cent in 2020, exceeding the financial crisis toll of 2008.

There is concern that we will face mass unemployment when we do eventually emerge from this unprecedented crisis. This government has already shown that, alone, it simply does not have the skills to bring us through this period, or the imagination to capitalise on the opportunities, new habits and behaviours the crisis has provided.

To navigate our way forward in this new world, we need to harness all our talents and work together. Citizens’ assemblies create forums for building resilience in communities, identify pressing need on the ground and allow new ideas to germinate. They may be just what we need. A non-party political Yorkshire citizens’ assembly could play an important part in the region’s recovery. It could provide a forum for new ideas and perspectives for boosting the Yorkshire economy and planning for a future where social distancing and intermittent lockdown is the norm.

New government money will be needed to stimulate the economy post lockdown. An assembly could be an effective vehicle for running Dragon’s Den style bidding sessions for new business proposals and it could provide the means to help them take root and grow in the region. This would ensure that those entrepreneurs who have the ideas to get us moving again have opportunities to test them and, most importantly, get financial backing. A citizens’ assembly could provide leadership here on the ground in Yorkshire, led by people who live and work in the region. Ideally, it would be sponsored and supported by our locally elected representatives. This would be a different way of engaging with local communities, which is precisely what is needed at this point as we emerge from the crisis.

Monday 27 April sees the return of the Prime Minister to frontline duties. I wish him well and hope he has fully recovered. On the steps of Downing Street on 13 December 2019 after winning the general election he said:

“And in the next few weeks and months we will be bringing forward proposals to transform this country. With better infrastructure, better education, better technology. And if you ask yourselves ‘what is this new government going to do?’, ‘what is he going to do with his extraordinary majority?’ I will tell you that is what we are going to do. We are going to unite and level up – unite and level up. Bringing together the whole of this incredible United Kingdom: England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland together. Taking us forward; unleashing the potential of the whole country; delivering opportunity across the entire nation.”

Boris Johnson – December 13 2020

The Prime Minister wants to be remembered as a Great Reformer; now is his moment.