York to press ahead with devolution and an elected mayor after getting residents’ feedback
York council is set to press ahead with devolution proposals – including an elected mayor – after a narrow majority of the public said they supported the plan on the table.
The York and North Yorkshire deal, which will see key decision-making powers and funding for transport, education and jobs devolved down from Whitehall, was provisionally signed by council leaders and the government in August.
Senior York councillors will be asked to consider pushing on with the proposal at their executive meeting on Tuesday following a public consultation process.
A total of 1,943 people completed the online survey, with a series of in-person events and focus groups also taking place. Major organisations and groups in the region were also specifically asked for their input.
The response rate “appears high” in comparison to other devolution consultations held in the country, according to the council’s report.
Residents were not asked if they supported the idea of devolution in principle, with questions instead asking whether people supported the ways in which the mayoral combined authority (MCA) would work.
Just over half (54 per cent) of respondents said they supported or strongly supported the proposed governance arrangements, including an elected Mayor and MCA, to “unlock the benefits of the devolution deal”.
Supporters said it would increase democratic accountability, boost the region’s voice and provide additional funding.
Around a third (32 per cent) of respondents opposed or strongly opposed the proposal, while a further 12 per cent said they neither supported nor opposed it.
A ‘pragmatic approach’
The proposed deal, part of a wider government push towards devolution across the country, has garnered the support of the vast majority of York councillors, with the exception of independent Cllr Mark Waters.
He said: “The whole thing is a sham that’s dedicated to creating another tier of unnecessary local government under the guise of an ‘elected’ Mayor that will have all the public interest and accountability of the police, fire and crime commissioner set up.”
Concerns raised by members of the public included fears about a loss of democratic accountability and concentrating power in one person, the MCA covering too large an area and the potential for added bureaucracy.
York’s council leader Cllr Keith Aspden has previously said he sympathises with concerns about the concentration of power, but said he had taken a “pragmatic” approach in order to secure cash and powers for the region from the government.
It is set to bring in at least £540m over 30 years, with an extra £50m for York Central also up for grabs.
Cllr Aspden said on Wednesday that devolution “represents an significant and historic opportunity for York and the North Yorkshire region to secure new powers and investment which have the potential to boost our local economy.”
He added: “This next decision is an important step in unlocking devolution and the benefits that can come with it. Given the significance of this decision, it’s been great to see so many get involved in the consultation.”
A final decision on the deal will be made at a meeting of full council later this month.