Networks are set to be established in North Yorkshire to act as the “engine rooms” for social and economic change and to identify the priorities of different communities at a local level across England’s largest county.
Plans to introduce the community networks are seen as a hugely important element of the new North Yorkshire Council, which will launch in just under seven weeks and provide public services across the whole of the county.
If the approach is approved, the new council will work closely with town and parish councils, public sector partners, businesses and communities to ensure local priorities drive decision-making and action via the networks.
They would include councillors and receive support from senior council officers, but they would be independent of the new authority and would be responsible for driving forward action plans centred on a specific area’s priorities.
Our leader, Cllr Carl Les, who will assume the leadership of the new authority when it launches on April 1, said: “While North Yorkshire Council will cover the largest geographical area of any local authority in the country, we are committed to being the most local too.
“The community networks will be invaluable to ensuring that the voices of communities across North Yorkshire are heard, and that local needs and priorities can be addressed.”
About 30 community networks are set to be introduced and centred around market towns and their surrounding areas. Members of our executive will meet on Tuesday, 21 February, to discuss how to implement the proposed scheme.
It is recommended that community networks should be phased in, with an initial roll-out of about six following the launch of the new council to trial the approach. New areas are then due to be added over the first year of the new council as part of a rolling programme.
The community networks are due to operate independently and have the opportunity to elect their own chair. While they would not have devolved budgets, the networks would be supported to explore funding opportunities through sources such as the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.
Wide-ranging work has already been undertaken between the county council and the current seven district and borough authorities to create the model for the community networks.
It is hoped that they will build on existing relationships and partnerships between the public, private and community and voluntary sectors, including the close working arrangements that were developed during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Support was offered throughout the crisis by what became known as Team North Yorkshire, with public agencies working alongside community support organisations, faith groups, local groups and volunteers as well as businesses and parish and town councils.
The concept of community networks was a focus for the Let’s Talk conversation which was staged last year in the biggest public engagement of its kind ever undertaken in North Yorkshire.
One of the elements of the Let’s Talk campaign was centred on how the new council will best serve the public and work at a local level. People were asked about the planned geographical areas for the community networks, and of the 2,565 responses 65 per cent agreed the proposals felt right for their communities.
Our executive member for stronger communities, Cllr Greg White, said: “The community networks are set to act as local agents for economic and social change. They are due to be places of collaboration between the new council and parish and town councils as well as business, public sector agencies and the communities they serve.
“Our approach would be centred around the significant economic, cultural and social assets of market towns, surrounding villages and natural communities in North Yorkshire. This would lead to greater collaboration and would provide the support that helps communities to become more self-reliant and resilient.
“They are due to be the engine rooms of local action and ideas, to get things done in local areas. Communities will help shape the plans and it is expected that the nature and make-up of the networks will evolve over time, to meet local needs and priorities.”
Cllr Les added: “Nothing will be imposed, as we want to do this with our communities and not to them.”
We, along with the seven district and borough authorities will merge from April 1 to pave the way for a devolution deal, which is set to transfer decision-making powers and millions of pounds of funding from Westminster to local political leaders.