North Yorkshire is preparing to become a single unitary council for the future delivery of local public services, following the recent decision by Secretary of State Robert Jenrick MP.
We will now work closely with district council colleagues, combining all our best endeavours to create an outstanding single unitary authority that will replace all eight councils (seven districts and a county) on the current North Yorkshire footprint.
Districts and the county council will also work hard together to maintain the quality of services during the transition phrase.
A new single council to unite the whole county and work in close partnership with City of York Council will now go forward and deliver all services to every household from April 2023.
We believe this will provide a stable foundation to deliver a rural powerhouse that drives economic recovery and growth at pace, alongside radical transformation and further devolution to a mayoral combined authority with City of York Council.
A strong devolution deal for York and North Yorkshire has never been more important, and we have never been closer to getting it. The decision to remove the current, duplicative two-tier local government system here is the first critical step.
We hear a lot about metropolitan areas and the economic success they are enjoying courtesy of elected mayors, but how much do we hear about rural powerhouses?
North Yorkshire is a county like no other because of its size (geographically the largest in England), its rurality, and sparse populations – 85 per cent of North Yorkshire is super-sparsely populated, among expansive countryside and two national parks.
While devolution deals have been secured for the most populous, most urban areas of Yorkshire, it can be argued that it is the most sparsely populated areas of Yorkshire that now need the most attention.
We face huge challenges post-pandemic in terms of connectivity, transportation, and the need to retain and attract a younger population. But I also believe we have before us the opportunity of a lifetime to shape a new exemplar council fit for the future, and to drive green and lasting economic recovery – delivering a better connected, even more vibrant county, which plays to its strengths and protects and enhances its landscapes and communities.
This huge change programme will be truly collaborative – not only through the joining together of the eight councils currently delivering services, but also through a commitment to giving communities a greater say on local priorities, and to working with partners to deliver a better quality of life for everyone.
A strong localism agenda will drive decision making from the bottom up, with a stronger voice and more powers – if they want them – for our town and parish councils, community groups, grassroots sports organisations, charities, health services, emergency service partners and local businesses. This is more than an ambition.
But alongside this localism agenda, devolution is critical to ensure North Yorkshire can be the rural powerhouse we know it can be.
Indeed, the requirement for devolution was highlighted as being ‘a matter of urgency’ in the recently published independent report by North Yorkshire’s Rural Commission.
The commission, which we set up to examine the pressing issues facing the county’s rural communities and to produce a series of actions, stated that devolution must be the number one priority for the region.
With that in mind – and with the commission’s Chair, Dean John Dobson – we have seized the moment and sent its report directly to Number 10 to demonstrate the evidence base and urgent need to move forward at pace with devolved powers and the funds that go with it.
The York and North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership is revisiting the £2.4 billion ‘asks’ we have submitted to government. It is important to ensure they remain relevant following the Prime Minister’s ‘levelling up’ address and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We need to see rural areas empowered to drive their own priorities, and deliver on our major infrastructure projects.
We believe it is this empowerment that will stimulate lasting economic recovery and growth, and create new and exciting opportunities for our workforce, rebalancing our environment and economy as we move forward beyond the pandemic.