The findings of the North Yorkshire Rural Commission were highlighted yesterday at the Great Yorkshire Show, as a major public engagement campaign was launched to ensure potential solutions to ingrained issues affecting the countryside become a reality.
A host of senior figures from the county heard how the commission’s work could provide a way forward to tackling wide-ranging issues including a lack of affordable housing and poor internet and mobile phone coverage.
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.
However, the commission’s chairman, John Dobson, who is also the Dean of Ripon, stressed that a reorganisation of local government to pave the way for shifting decision-making powers from Westminster to local leaders must not overshadow attempts to implement the report’s findings.
He said: “We need a comprehensive plan to take forward the report’s recommendations, and we cannot allow the chance to slip away.
“North Yorkshire stands at a crossroads, the problems that have been affecting rural communities for so long can simply be left to continue or there is now an unprecedented opportunity to act.
“Devolution is vital and while local government organisation is needed to make that happen, it cannot be allowed to cloud the chance to make real progress, as that would be a travesty.”
Among those who were at the launch of the public engagement event at the Great Yorkshire Show yesterday were North Yorkshire County Council’s leader, Carl Les, Transport for the North’s chief executive, Tim Wood, the York and North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership’s deputy chairman, David Dickson, and government officials.
The Lord Lieutenant for North Yorkshire, Jo Ropner, the NFU’s regional director, Adam Bedford, and Welcome to Yorkshire’s chief executive, James Mason, were also in attendance.
The independent commission, which is the first of its kind to be established, has called on the 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.
Coun Les said: “The issues highlighted by the commission and matters of the moment, and action is most definitely needed. We have already begun discussions to take forward the recommendations, as the report does present a huge opportunity.”
Perhaps the starkest of the commission’s findings is that a generation of young people has been lost in North Yorkshire, with the county’s demographic heavily slanted towards the over-65s.
The report has revealed that a lack of younger workers in North Yorkshire has left a £1.4bn hole in the county’s economy.
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.
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.
The Rural Commission, which was established in November 2019, met 20 times taking evidence from more than 70 participants, including MPs and government officials. Three visits were made to rural communities, while 27 written submissions were considered.
Efforts are underway to carry out wide-ranging restructuring of local government to secure a transformative devolution deal for North Yorkshire.
The move is set to ultimately introduce a metro mayor to oversee decision-making powers to mirror those of Dan Jarvis in South Yorkshire and Tracy Brabin in West Yorkshire.
Two rival bids have been submitted to Westminster for the biggest overhaul of North Yorkshire’s local government structure since 1974 to pave the way for the devolution deal.
North Yorkshire County Council is behind plans for a single unitary authority, while the county’s seven district councils are proposing two east/west authorities either side of the A1.
Ministers are expected to make an announcement on the way forward during the summer.