North Yorkshire’s rural communities set to benefit from devolution

This story was published 8 August 2022

Vital decision-making powers outlined under a long-awaited proposed devolution deal will provide a raft of benefits.

A group of people signing the proposed devolution deal

Ranging from new and better-paid jobs to more affordable housing for hundreds of thousands of people across North Yorkshire’s rural communities, leading figures have claimed.

Proposals for devolution have been unveiled to give a greater say for local politicians in York and North Yorkshire to improve prosperity, provide better job opportunities and boost transport links across England’s largest county.

The proposed 30-year deal would be the first of its kind in the country to focus on a vast rural region, allowing the chance to tackle deeply ingrained problems blighting countryside communities, including a lack of affordable housing, as well as establishing an investment fund with £18 million available annually.

Devolution is a key policy of the Government, handing over decision-making powers to local political leaders and providing millions of pounds in funding to shape hugely important policies and projects on a regional level.

The deal for York and North Yorkshire would see the introduction of an influential mayor who would become a figurehead for the region and forge close links with the Government.

Details of the deal were announced on Monday last week (1 August) to coincide with the annual Yorkshire Day celebrations, and are being heralded as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” with a particular focus on evolving North Yorkshire’s traditional industries, such as farming, while also embracing new sectors such as the green technology revolution.

One of the key elements of the proposed devolution deal would be to bolster the local economy and attract a wave of new enterprise. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has nearly 4,000 members in York and North Yorkshire, and offers business and financial advice and a powerful collective voice to the membership.

Carolyn Frank, the FSB’s development manager for York and North Yorkshire, said: “If you’re a small rural business working in the Upper Dales or on the coast in North Yorkshire, you can feel very removed from decisions made in Westminster. 

“Devolution brings an opportunity for local decision-making formed by a greater understanding of the issues facing our rural and coastal business communities. Through devolution, local policy makers can bring tailored solutions including infrastructure improvements, business support and local skills strategies, as well as budget efficiencies from a longer-term funding package, resulting overall in more effective public services and increased investment into the area.  

“York and North Yorkshire has so much to offer, especially to net zero goals and national food security, and from our brilliant entrepreneurs and innovative independent businesses and our high-performing universities, and has waited a long time for a fairer deal through devolution.  

“At the FSB we are excited to help unlock the potential of York and North Yorkshire in partnership with colleagues across the public and private sector, and to make sure the delivery of devolution lives up to the high expectations of the deal from our membership.”

The York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce’s president, Laurence Beardmore, claimed the proposed devolution deal would ensure a more streamlined approach to decision-making.

He said: “We welcome the proposed devolution deal and its obvious benefits for business to have a joined-up approach for York and North Yorkshire in regards to business policy and support. Our region represents both a vibrant city, beautiful National Parks, rural communities and a stunning coastline. As such, we face unique challenges and opportunities.  

“The power of a single budget and purpose for the region will unlock the huge potential that exists, for example in terms of transport infrastructure projects to make all areas including the coast, rural towns and villages and urban hotspots connected. It will enable faster decision-making powers for the things that count to the people of this region without often waiting on approval from Westminster.”

The Yorkshire Food, Farming and Rural Network was established in 2012 by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to champion farming, food production and rural businesses.

The chairwoman of the Yorkshire Food, Farming and Rural Network, Madge Moore, said: “We are delighted to hear about the proposed agreement and welcome this new development which will bring much needed support to North Yorkshire’s food, farming and rural businesses.

“Many rural and farming businesses are facing soaring input costs, labour shortages and supply chain difficulties. This new agreement will give the vital support that is needed, in the form of business support and skills enhancement that will help improve rural productivity.”

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) is an influential lobby group which represents 28,000 farmers and rural businesses across England and Wales.

The CLA’s Director North, Lucinda Douglas, said: “The largely rural demography in North Yorkshire requires tailored-made solutions to remedy some of the key issues such as a lack of affordable housing and other infrastructure issues that is holding back the rural economy.

“A devolved unitary council will potentially unlock funding to resolve challenges that are currently holding back the rural economy in the area. The CLA will continue to work positively with North Yorkshire County Council, as well as the York and North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership in calling for parity of the rural economy with that of urban areas.”

The planned 30-year agreement, with total funding of more than £540 million for York and North Yorkshire, is set to help tackle regional inequalities by not only reducing the North-South divide nationally, but also helping to resolve economic differences between urban and rural areas.

North Yorkshire County Council’s leader, Cllr Carl Les, said: “This really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring greater parity for the region, allowing us to have more decision-making powers and a greater say on where money can be directed and spent to benefit the hundreds of thousands of people who live and work in York and North Yorkshire.

“The vital services provided by councils in York and North Yorkshire will continue, and the devolution deal will allow major projects to be developed with millions of pounds of extra funding.

“One of the key elements of the deal will be to help tackle the inequalities that persist between rural and urban areas, with the aspiration of creating a rural powerhouse that benefits the economy not just for the North, but the country as a whole.

“I truly believe that this proposed deal is one that will work for everyone, and countryside communities will be at the forefront of our efforts to tackle a wide range of issues from improving skills and education to bringing in more investment to the region, helping improve transport links and providing much-needed affordable housing.”

The independent North Yorkshire Rural Commission, the first of its kind nationally, was established by the county council in the autumn of 2019. It was launched to tackle a host of issues affecting the countryside, and an overriding theme in its findings was the need for the Government to provide a devolution deal for North Yorkshire.

The Dean of Ripon, the Very Reverend John Dobson, who was the commission’s chairman, said: “It was clear to the commissioners that devolution is essential for real decision-making to be made on a regional level to address many of the biggest issues facing countryside communities.

“The announcement of the proposed deal is extremely encouraging, and the opportunities ahead are immense. I would urge everyone involved to continue to work together to ensure the greatest impact a devolution deal could provide, but this is a major step forward and one to be welcomed.”

The new mayor, who would be elected in May 2024 if the proposed deal comes to fruition, would lead a new powerful combined authority that would oversee strategic projects ranging from major transport improvements and boosting skills and education to providing more affordable housing.

Property prices in the Yorkshire Dales, for instance, are about a third higher than the county’s average. The average cost of a property in the Dales is nearly £400,000, while the weekly wage in North Yorkshire is just over £530.

North Yorkshire County Council, City of York Council and district and borough authorities undertook negotiations with the Government to draw up the proposed devolution deal. Councillors will now review the proposed deal over the summer and collectively decide whether to proceed to a consultation with the public. The consultation could then take place later this year if councillors give the go-ahead at their respective executive and cabinet meetings.

Find out more on our devolution page.