Public urged to help shape future of new council

This story was published 7 September 2022

The biggest ever conversation with the public in North Yorkshire will help shape a watershed moment in local democracy and pinpoint the future priorities for vital services for hundreds of thousands of people in the county.

Council staff and volunteers who will be seeking the public views on their key priorities for their local communities as part of the Let’s Talk conversation.

The largest programme of consultation events ever undertaken by councils in North Yorkshire will be launched this month (September).

The aim of North Yorkshire’s biggest ever engagement programme is to collate thousands of views from the county’s residents and businesses to help provide the bedrock for decision-making and policies for when a new council is launched in the spring of next year.

We will merge with North Yorkshire’s seven district and borough authorities as part of the biggest restructuring of local government in the county for nearly 50 years.

Our leader, Cllr Carl Les, claimed the Let’s Talk campaign is key to helping draw up a detailed vision for the new authority, as well as identifying people’s priorities for spending on services on a local level ranging from social care and education to waste collection, recycling and highways maintenance.

Cllr Les, who will assume the leadership of the new North Yorkshire Council when it launches on April 1 next year, said: “The new council will be the largest geographically in the country as it will cover England’s largest county, but it is being built with local at the heart of everything it will do.

“There will be local staff providing local services, based on local priorities and decision-making taking into account the views of the public.

“Having one new council will save millions of pounds by streamlining services and preventing duplication, creating the most efficient and cost-effective way of delivering them that we can.

“This money will help support services to ensure they are stronger and fit for the future and will fund decision-making on the most local level possible.

“It is vital we engage with the public to help shape exactly how the new council will operate, and this biggest ever conversation in North Yorkshire will be the way in which we can glean people’s views.

“I would urge everyone who lives and works in North Yorkshire to take time to put forward their opinions, and we will listen carefully to those views.”

The Let’s Talk campaign will launch on Monday, September 26, and will run until Friday, December 23.

The first topic will be focused on the new council’s commitment to serving communities on a local level. Teams of staff and volunteers from all eight councils which will merge will travel across North Yorkshire to gather the public’s views on how the new authority can best serve people on a grassroots level.

Questions will focus on people’s opinions on their own communities, asking what are their priorities for issues including job opportunities, education provision and facilities for young people as well as access to nature, parks and open spaces.

Other issues set to be part of the conversation include public transport, road and pavement repairs and traffic congestion along with access to libraries, museums and theatres and shopping facilities.

The conversation will also aim to get the public’s views on the new council’s priorities over an initial three-year period to tackle wide-ranging issues from social inequality and the cost of living crisis to regenerating town centres, improving rural transport and tackling climate change.

Other issues which the public will be asked to consider for the new council’s initial priorities include tackling climate change, creating more housing to counter the affordable homes crisis and improving connectivity for mobile phone and internet coverage.

Additional subjects that will be covered in the ongoing Let’s Talk conversation include money and how the new council’s budget will be spent.

A potential conversation about a proposed devolution deal for York and North Yorkshire, details of which were unveiled on August 1, could be launched in the autumn. However, this is dependent on the approval of our councillors as well as those from City of York Council.

The Let’s Talk conversation will be aimed at engaging with residents, businesses and community groups as well as town and parish councils and council staff.

The Let’s Talk conversation will be available online which you can get to on our Lets Talk North Yorkshire page and the site will be regularly updated to provide details of public events taking place across North Yorkshire.

Let’s Talk offers a great opportunity to listen to public’s priorities

Council staff and volunteers who will speak to residents around North Yorkshire in the Let’s Talk conversation have highlighted the hugely valuable chance to understand the priorities of local communities.

Liz Meade has lived and worked in the Harrogate area for more than 20 years. Since 2014, she has been the Harrogate area delivery manager for our stronger communities team, who work alongside communities supporting them to deliver local projects and activities. Before that, she was a children’s centre manager, so has been closely involved in her local area for a long time.

Her children have grown up in the town and are now at university. They love Harrogate, so a key issue for the family is developing opportunities for young people to make their careers in the area.

“I am invested in the area and it is important to me,” she says. “I live and work in the same patch and I work in the community, so I do get involved in things and have an interest in making sure people are connected into things that can help them.

“It is really important that we have the opportunity to listen and understand what is important to people where they live. We can’t make assumptions.

“I think what people say to us will vary a lot in different places. We will ensure we are in different venues so we can hear voices from a whole range of people, including people we wouldn’t normally hear from, to discover what is important to them.

“The Let’s Talk conversation is an opportunity for them to say what they value most about where they live – and we don’t know that until we listen.

“We are having these conversations where people live and where they identify with, so hopefully the new council can build on what is important in those local areas. We know it  won’t be the same everywhere.”

Fiona Protheroe is a climate emergency officer at Craven District Council. She grew up in Skipton and went to school there, leaving the area when she was 18, but returning 12 years ago to raise her family in the town.

Naturally, she expects climate change is likely to come up in the Let’s Talk conversations.

“It affects so many aspects of people’s lives and there are so many actions you can take,” she said. “It’s an issue that does need everyone working together and the new authority gives us a chance to do that. I think that’s really exciting. It’s a massive challenge, but the more of us working on it the better we can do.”

She added that Let’s Talk is an important opportunity for council staff to get out and listen to people as they share their priorities, which will help the new North Yorkshire Council to design the services that people want and need.

“It is a period of big change in the county, with one authority, so it’s important that people can input their views about what matters to them in their local area. We want to keep things local as we move forward. We will be one area, but we want to work locally, so this is a chance for people to talk about their area, what matters to them, what they might like to see in future – their priorities.

“Not everybody is on social media or interested in social media, so it’s important to get out to people and talk to them in places that they go to, so they have a chance to get involved and no-one misses out. A big thing about the Let’s Talk campaign is that we want to reach people who wouldn’t normally comment. It will be great if they give us a chance to listen to what they think.”

Tom Jenkinson has worked in North Yorkshire for more than 20 years, with spells in Harrogate, Northallerton and Craven before he took up his current role as Selby area delivery manager for our stronger communities team. Among other things, he loves North Yorkshire for the fabulous walking in the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors.

He has been part of the stronger communities team since it was created in response to the Government’s austerity measures earlier this century.

“The drive behind stronger communities was to give communities and the voluntary sector more opportunities to get involved and to give them support,” he said. “The recent big thing has been the response to Covid-19 and one of the really positive angles to that has been how closely we have worked with district councils. We have established strong bonds and a clear understanding, which highlights how much stronger we are going to be when we are all one council.

“Although the new council is going to be a bigger organisation, which I know makes some people anxious, we have worked so closely with localities through Covid-19, and that will be our approach moving forward, while still giving us that size and collective bargaining power to do things more effectively.

“We recognise that local residents know their area, they know what they need, and we want to be able to meet those needs as well as we can, although there will be challenges and it is not necessarily going to be easy.

“Let’s Talk is a brilliant opportunity for people to raise our awareness of the things that really matter to them and how they think we need to communicate with them. We want to listen, and we need people to keep talking to us in a constructive way. Our residents are as much a part of the solutions as we are.”

Karen Atkinson is also a long-time member of the stronger communities team and is based in Scarborough.

She has lived in Scarborough for 11 years and before that in villages in the Scarborough district and Ryedale. She moved to North Yorkshire from Essex, having visited Whitby on holiday and deciding this was where she wanted to live when she began her family. Initially, she worked for our libraries, but the stronger communities role was her dream job, because it was so much about supporting community ideas and initiatives.

“North Yorkshire matters as much to me as to the people I will be having conversations with,” she said.

“Let’s Talk is about going out there with no set agenda, to ask people what matters to them, what locally are the burning issues, what are their aspirations and what ideas do they have? It is really an opportunity to be able to spend quality time just talking to people, getting out into communities as much as we can and properly listening to local people. This way we can really get a better understanding of what people are thinking about now and how we can start to make a difference for them.

“This campaign is as much for the people that we will be talking to as it is for the council. If you can encourage people to make a difference and to shape their own future and the way things are done, that is much more positive than being passive and then wishing things were different. This is a great chance for us together to make a difference to our communities, It will allow people to let us know if there is a particular activity they would like to see delivered in their community or a better way of doing something.

“That is a really positive action – if you say something, then see it happen, that gives you confidence to be more proactive.”

Jo-Anne Scott, is a health and community engagement officer with Richmondshire District Council. This involves all aspects of community development and support, including grant schemes, so she is used to working with and listening to the district’s communities, including minority and rural groups such as Dementia Friendly Richmondshire and Area Partnerships.

Born in Cyprus into a military family, she grew up in County Durham and her career brought her to work in Richmond 14 years ago.

“The feedback we have heard already in our work is around keeping things local and recognising the unique nature of Richmondshire, which is largely rural,” she said. “The creative sector is a big part of the identity of the district. I think our cultural offer will improve when we are part of the new council. It is about supporting Richmondshire as a place to live, work and visit.

“People are looking for equitable access to services, because with the rurality of Richmondshire equal access to services and opportunities is essential. Those are not new issues and are not going to go away, but this gives us the opportunity to level up in the right way. Being part of the new authority can only improve those opportunities.

“It is absolutely crucial that people give their views now in this process.”