City of York Council, the county council and seven district and borough councils in North Yorkshire have been told by the government to rapidly prepare plans to form one or more unitary authority, led by an elected mayor.
At a virtual meeting with the nine councils which are working towards devolution, local government minister Simon Clark said streamlined local authority structures were now an immediate requirement for devolution.
In a surprise move, the minister told council leaders that despite the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a willingness and capacity in government to move the changes on at pace and called on the local authorities to submit unitary authority plans by September.
Such plans have previously been rejected by one or more of the area’s councils, which have remained the same since 1974.
However, local authorities in the area are supportive of devolution as they believe it will bring more funding and powers to the area.
April 2022 deadline
The government wants the new authority structure and elections to take place by April 2022, and while councils will be arriving at individual conclusions, the government has warned it would impose a solution if no consensus is reached.
The government has stated any change to geography could involve the City of York Council, but it is understood some leaders on the unitary authority want it to remain as it is.
Council sources say there are almost as many views on the best way forward as there are councils and no meeting has yet been scheduled to discuss the issue before September.
One council leader is believed to have aired a proposal to create one authority from the Selby, York, Ryedale and Scarborough areas and another with the Richmondshire, Hambleton, Craven and Harrogate areas.
Whatever the shape and size of future councils, the services and the need to deliver them across England’s largest county will remain.
Areas that are seeking devolution must:
– become part of a joint body (a ‘Combined Authority’) with other places where decisions about these matters would be taken
– have a regional elected mayor who would work with councils through the Combined Authority to use the powers and resources gained through any deal.
The elected mayor has access to devolved powers and resources and acts as an individual to unite and work across the region. The elected mayor can be held to account for decisions made on a regional level.
Have your say
City of York Council is encouraging residents and local organisations to have their say on the first steps of a potential devolution deal.
York now has the opportunity to present a series of ‘asks’ to Government, which would outline what the city would like to see if a devolution deal is agreed.
Such a deal could unlock funding, including
- investment in York’s transport infrastructure, like Haxby station
- investment in low-carbon technologies
- more affordable housing
- funding to boost tourism
- investment in major schemes, like York Central.
York people are being invited to air their views as part of their One Big Conversation initiative.
There will also be a Facebook live ‘Ask the Leaders’ event on Thursday 16 July 5-6pm, where a panel will answer questions about what devolution might mean for York’s future.
Council leader Keith Aspden said: “The possible scale of investment with devolution is significant, and therefore, it is incredibly important that local residents and organisations have the opportunity to have their say on this important first step, particularly on the outcomes we want to achieve.
“This is a first step, with further consultation to come. To continue to progress, any deal has to be right for our area and be of direct benefit to residents, communities and businesses.”
Cllr Angie Dale, leader of Richmondshire District Council, said the opportunity for councils to veto the unitary authority move would be taken away from them in a white paper in the autumn.
She said: “A unitary authority covering the whole of North Yorkshire and York and its 800,000 residents is far too large – it is too big to deliver local front line services for people and when considering unitaries it is vital this is taken into consideration.”
Additional reporting: YorkMix