Region needs sufficient scale to succeed, says business body

A body representing business leaders across York and North Yorkshire is backing a single council for the county under forthcoming local government reorganisation.

Andrew Digwood

The Government has told York and North Yorkshire that the current two-tier structure of local government must change to enable the county to qualify for a devolution deal. That means the current arrangement whereby a total of eight councils deliver services must end.

North Yorkshire County Council is proposing a single new council to follow the existing county boundary and to replace the current seven district councils and the county council. Under that proposal, City of York Council, already a unitary authority, would remain unchanged.

York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce sees devolution as an opportunity to take control of funds and powers from Central Government to better deliver the infrastructure, skills, business support and growth opportunities that will improve economic prospects.

Andrew Digwood, President of the Chamber, said: “I feel this is a once in a generation opportunity to take control over game-changing money and powers, which will see York and North Yorkshire operating at scale while moving in alignment and in partnership with West Yorkshire, which has already agreed a deal with Whitehall.

“Devolution can really help to level up our region and deliver the economic recovery that we so badly need as we come out of the Covid-19 crisis.”

He believes devolution offers the potential to put the region on the world stage.

“This can only be achieved if we are operating at a sufficient scale,” said Andrew.

“We understand and respect the desire from civic leaders to retain decision-making powers for the City of York. Likewise, we support the pragmatic view adopted by North Yorkshire County Council to take the bold decision of proposing the creation of a unitary authority.

“As a Chamber we stand ready to support on behalf of the York and North Yorkshire business community to help shape our collective futures.”

Andrew says that for the region’s businesses to succeed as best they can, it is necessary to get the building blocks that support the economy right, including the right mix of skills in the right places, a modern and sustainable transport structure and a digital connectivity and communications infrastructure suitable for 21st century businesses.

He said: “Devolution will enable us to find local solutions for those problems and to unlock funding to help to deliver them in a way that suits the needs of local businesses and local people, and in doing that rebalance and refocus our economy to create even more high-paid jobs and sustainable jobs and prove what the region is capable of in areas like agri-tech, bio-tech, precision and specialist engineering as well as our traditional assets and the tourism and visitor economy.

“The brand of Yorkshire has never been stronger and devolution will help York and North Yorkshire to compete as a region not only nationally but on a global scale. The York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce stands ready to support that project to deliver the best possible outcome for our region, its businesses and its people.”

Cllr Carl Les, Leader of North Yorkshire County Council, said: “We have a fantastic opportunity not only to deliver more integrated services to business and major cash savings, but also to potentially leverage more than £2bn investment into York and North Yorkshire through devolution.

“There are many challenges now and will be in the future for businesses and our communities. We need to build a strong council to put us in the best possible position to face them together.”

This story was published 10 September 2020