For some considerable time, North Yorkshire and York have been lobbying Government for the local decision making powers and significant economic investment that a devolution deal for the area would bring.
A good devolution agreement would help unleash stronger economic recovery, deliver broad ranging benefits for residents and the business community and support infrastructure development.
The possibilities of this are now moving at pace as the Government views English devolution as a means of providing fairer funding, opportunities and life chances for people across all areas of the country – addressing historic inequalities. The timing of this is crucial to North Yorkshire’s recovery from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Government has now confirmed how it intends to take forward devolution in England and Simon Clarke MP, Minister of State at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, met with council leaders and chief executives from across York and North Yorkshire on 7 July 2020.
At this meeting he outlined the Government’s ambitious plan and timetable to link devolution deals with the establishment of new unitary councils across England. Where areas want to pursue the benefits of devolution – they will therefore need to agree to adopt a unitary approach to providing local services to the public. That would mean ending the current arrangement in North Yorkshire whereby district and borough councils provide some local services in their local areas and the county council delivers strategic services like children’s services and education, health and social care, safeguarding and highways across the whole county.
It is not yet clear how what a new unitary system for North Yorkshire would look like but it is clear it is the only way to secure the many positive benefits of devolution. Government also stated that a devolution agreement would include the formation of a Combined Authority with an elected Mayor. The timeline is very tight, with bids to be submitted by September this year and those which are successful in this round to be established as early as May 2022.
Cllr Carl Les, Leader of North Yorkshire County Council said: “In North Yorkshire we support devolution and see it as an important mechanism to release more funding which will greatly strengthen our economic regeneration and recovery – particularly in the context of emerging from the human and financial impact of Covid-19.
“We have always been clear that key decisions about our county, which impact on our people and communities, are most effective when made here. We would therefore welcome more money and powers to move North Yorkshire’s economy and infrastructure forward in this way.
“Linking strong devolution deals to unitary status is the challenge Government has issued. We are at a critical time for our county and region and can see the positive opportunities to simplify structures and access to high quality services, strengthen our economy and voice nationally to lobby for greater investment and save significant sums of money.
“These are important to the people we serve and we will consider this more in the days ahead.”
Richard Flinton, the County Council’s Chief Executive said: “This would constitute a significant change and in the coming weeks we will be having discussions within the council and also with colleagues in district councils and the City of York. It is however true that whatever the shape and size of future councils, the services and the need to deliver them across North Yorkshire will remain.
“Our residents can also remain assured that we are focussed on continuing to play our crucial role in tackling Covid-19, helping the county to recover and delivering the essential high-quality services that the public rely on us for.”