'Give rural communities the chance to shape their own destiny' say authors of North Yorkshire Rural Commission

Rural communities must be given the opportunity to shape their own destiny with the Government handing over a raft of powers after a generation of young people has been lost in North Yorkshire, commissioners behind a landmark report have warned.

The profound impact of the county’s ageing population has been laid bare in the long-awaited findings of the North Yorkshire Rural Commission, with a host of wide-ranging issues leaving the demographics heavily skewed to the over-65s.

The report, which The Yorkshire Post has been given exclusive access to, has revealed that a lack of younger workers in North Yorkshire has left a £1.4bn hole in the county’s economy.

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It has been estimated that if North Yorkshire had the same percentage of younger adults aged between 20 and 44 years old as the national average, there would be an additional 45,551 people living in the county.

Rural communities should have the chance to shape their own destiny, a new report has said

The Rural Commission’s report had blamed ingrained and complex issues for the scarcity of the younger generation in North Yorkshire, including a lack of affordable housing, school closures due to falling pupil numbers and a decline in local services such as pubs and local shops because of a lack of customers.

However, an overriding theme which the commission’s findings have identified is the need for the Government to provide a long-awaited multi-billion pound devolution deal for North Yorkshire.

The report has stressed that decision-making powers for key issues such as education, transport infrastructure and economic investment have to be shifted away from the capital and to the county’s local authorities.

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The Dean of Ripon, John Dobson, who is the commission’s chairman, said: “The issues which have been identified in the report have long affected rural communities not just in North Yorkshire, but across the country.

“If there was an easy solution to them, then they would have resolved - and there would not have been a need for the Rural Commission.

“However, we have attempted to take a fresh look at these issues and provide solutions to them - they might not always be popular, but they are a way of ensuring that North Yorkshire’s rural communities have a sustainable future.”

The independent commission, which is the first of its kind to be established, has called on North Yorkshire County Council to establish an advisory task force to include civil servants, rural business, banking and industry, academic and scientific expertise and communities to take forward its recommendations.

Among the most radical proposals are a levy on the owners of second homes, and an overhaul of the Government’s funding formula for both education and housing.

A mutual bank has also been suggested to drive forward investment in North Yorkshire, while the county’s economy needs to be focused far more on the green energy sector, according to the report.

The commission has also said that the UK’s exit from the European Union has also pinpointed a need for new funding streams to be established for the farming sector and also public transport services.

Shadow Environment Secretary Luke Pollard has pledged to highlight the commission’s report to the upper echelons of the Government in the hope that the findings could be implemented in rural communities across the country.

The Government has stressed that it has launched a new £4.8 billion Levelling Up Fund which will “directly support communities in all nations”.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Homes, Communities and Local Government added: “The Government is levelling up all areas of the country, including rural areas, with billions of pounds of investment to support and regenerate communities.

“We will publish a Levelling Up White Paper later this year, setting out bold new policy interventions to help improve livelihoods, spread opportunity and drive economic growth – all as part of our efforts to build back better from the pandemic.”