Chance for businesses to hear plans for county’s future

Business leaders in North Yorkshire are being invited to learn more about how the future shape of local government and the subsequent devolution could benefit them.

Nick Stafford

North Yorkshire County Council is to host an online seminar for businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This will give businesspeople an opportunity to hear first-hand the County Council’s proposal for a single council for North Yorkshire as local government in York and North Yorkshire is reorganised as a prerequisite to securing a devolution deal.

It will provide an overview of the York and North Yorkshire devolution deal and what it means for businesses and explain how a single council would benefit SMEs and deliver at scale.

The County Council is working on an ambitious devolution deal to take control of funds and powers from central government to accelerate the recovery from the pandemic and create new growth opportunities for businesses.

It has approved the submission of plans to Government to invest £540m in fibre connectivity, £390m in transport links, £290m in market town centres, £215m in the bio-economy, £95m on housing, £50m on green energy and £10m in skills across the county over the coming years.

The new single council proposals would also save significantly more than £25m a year in bureaucracy costs by scrapping the current two-tier structure of local government, which has seven district councils and a county council. These would be replaced by a single authority with enhanced local accountability and the strongest possible voice at a national level.

County Council Leader Cllr Carl Les said: “Not only will a single council based on the county’s current identity simplify things for businesses – renewing our economy following the shock of the pandemic – it will protect and strengthen high-quality services.

“Our bid will also protect the globally recognised identity of North Yorkshire, which is vital for tourism. There is a great deal at stake and we believe this is the only sustainable, credible option.

“I encourage all businesspeople with an interest in the future of our county and the opportunities that can afford them to register for this online seminar, hear what we have to say, ask questions and make up their own minds.”

Richard Flinton, the County Council’s Chief Executive, added: “North Yorkshire has a vibrant and diverse business community with international strengths in the bio-economy, technology, manufacturing and tourism sectors.

“This devolution deal will back companies of all sizes with new investment of up to £2.4bn in the infrastructure they need to grow and prosper, but the time is now – devolution must not be delayed. The cost of any delay could be extremely significant. Our proposals simplify and strengthen local government, save unnecessary spending, bring stability and give us the size and scale to succeed.”

One business owner who is supportive of the County Council’s position on local government reorganisation is Kal Shergill, director of Ace Elevators, which has a contract with the council for the installation and maintenance of lifts.

“If one council covers the whole county, it’s easier for everybody,” he said. “Having a contract with the council, if you’ve got a bigger patch you can employ more people and respond more quickly, and because of that scale you can keep your costs lower and give that discount back to the council. It works both ways. The council gets a more competitive tender, we win because we can give a faster service at a lower price.”

Kal, who lives in Greenhow, near Pateley Bridge, praised the support received from the council in recent months.

“Even during the pandemic, because of the way North Yorkshire County Council works and how promptly they pay, it kept us on track for our growth and we were actually able to employ another two engineers. We didn’t have to put anyone on furlough.”

And he supports businesses helping each other.

“We have local engineers in North Yorkshire and they buy their supplies from local businesses,” he said. “This stimulates the local economy and means that by going to the local hardware shop to get what we need we can do the job faster. We like to give back to the community if we can. Maybe that’s why I see this as a really good step forward. It does help local employment, local businesses.”

Nick Stafford, owner of Hambleton Brewery, is in favour of change as long as the reason is clear.

“We understand that business models need to change, not least in local government,” he said, “but we mustn’t lose our democratic rights. Therefore, my feeling is that a unitary must ensure responsibility for delivery at as low a level as possible. In that way, they can stay in touch with the people who matter, the individual resident in North Yorkshire.”

Among the County Council’s proposals to strengthen decision making at a local level is “double devolution”, which would see more powers devolved to town and parish councils, where they wanted them.

Nick said: “I am fully supportive of retaining what has been good in the past, but removing inefficiencies and replacing them with new vision and efficiencies going forward. I don’t want to throw out the baby with the bath water, but we can’t stand still.

“I think it is important for the county to understand how businesses operate and in that the greater expertise is probably at county level.”

The County Council’s online seminar will take place on Thursday, 10 September, from 1pm to 2pm. To register to join, visit www.northyorks.gov.uk/SMEwebinar

The seminar will offer an opportunity to question Chief Executive Richard Flinton and Assistant Director Growth, Planning and Trading Standards Matt O’Neill

This story was published 6 September 2020