Don’t repeat Humberside’s mistakes over East Riding shake-up – Jonathan Owen
Having spent over 20 years as an East Riding of Yorkshire councillor, 18 years of which was spent as its deputy leader, and having joined the council shortly after the abolition of the old and often hated Humberside County Council, I have often reflected on it’s meaning.
What does place mean to you?
When I’m abroad, I’m British or English. When in meetings in other parts of the country, I’m a proud Yorkshireman.
When at home I’m proudest to be representing the ‘place’ and community in which I live.
This is, in my case, the village of Kilham within the ward of East Wolds and Coastal, an area containing 21 villages and parishes, and over 12,000 residents which I was elected to represent.
I also, for many years, proudly represented the East Riding of Yorkshire Council as its deputy leader, showcasing what it was doing for its wider communities, to local government nationally, as we were recognised as a leading local authority in terms of service delivery and innovation.
Now the Government is pressing for devolution, with the new and potential combined authority areas, in an attempt to make its life easier by dealing with a few elected mayors.
At the same time, the separate, massive and centralised National Health Service is moving towards amalgamation of its smaller, community-based, clinical commissioning groups into large integrated care systems.
And, in doing so, we must not lose sight of what our residents really feel is the place they ‘belong’ to and provide our services accordingly in a clear vision everyone understands.
We can only understand that by asking them and, hopefully, listening to them.
We read of the friction around the future of North Yorkshire and York, with a potential splitting of the county or at least forming an unitary status (i.e. losing the districts).
There is also the debate around the possible linking of Hull and the East Riding as a combined authority area, which would result in probably the smallest combined area in the country to date with just two local authorities being involved.
It would be a far cry from the existing large combined authority areas in Greater Manchester, Liverpool, West and South Yorkshire, which are of a size where there would be no risk to their constituent local authority areas maintaining a degree of independence.
I have experienced the relief and resultant opportunities released by the abolition of the old Humberside, some years ago now, and a return to ‘places’ people felt part of.
Let’s ensure that we, as elected representatives at whatever level, never lose sight of what ‘place’ really means to people.
Furthermore, that we promote the ‘place’ as one in which they can have pride as the area they wish belong to, as the future way forward in any changes to local government structures and boundaries.
As representatives elected by those very communities, we need to inform, consult and listen before any irreversible change happens.
In a hopefully ‘post-Covid’ world and society that will be very different, never will there have been a wish for people to feel they belong to something tangible they can relate to – namely the place where they live and work and to have pride, too, in that place.
Jonathan Owen is a former deputy leader of East Riding Council, a Tory councillor for East Wolds and Coastal Ward and chair of the East Riding Health, Care and Wellbeing Overview Committee.
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