Why North Yorkshire is right to double down on devolution - Carl Les

Two Latin phrases spring to mind whilst writing this piece. E PLURIBUS UNUM – the motto of the United States of America, ‘one out of many’ symbolising the coming together of the individual entities that make up the USA into that one coherent power house of industry, commerce, defence, diplomacy and democracy.

On a smaller scale but with the same principle our North Yorkshire county is similar, many communities joined together.

We stand on the cusp of the devolution of powers and decision-making. Moving from decisions made in Whitehall to making more here in County Hall and the Guildhall. Not everybody agrees with our quest, and some of its consequences, but in my experience I haven't come across any local politician who didn't feel that we could make more relevant decisions here nearer to the points of impact.

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And there were consequences. The government required us to remove a tier of local government and arrive at a single point of contact with an elected Mayor, working with the two local unitary councils in what is known as a Combined Authority. Although Combined Authorities are fewer in number, this is not a unique situation, most of the population of England lives in unitary council areas, where there is no duplication, no confusion about who does what and who is accountable for what. It should not be seen as a threat, but as an opportunity. The single council exists to provide the services that were provided before. Every resident still has an elected representative looking after their interests, and elections will take place every four years.

Councillor Carl Les is the leader of North Yorkshire Council. PIC: Bruce RollinsonCouncillor Carl Les is the leader of North Yorkshire Council. PIC: Bruce Rollinson
Councillor Carl Les is the leader of North Yorkshire Council. PIC: Bruce Rollinson

The Mayoral Combined Authority (MCA) will come together to discuss the big, strategic issues that concern the region of York & North Yorkshire of housing, major road planning, skills and economic development. New money will flow into the region, and importantly existing budget streams will be devolved to the MCA, and then to the individual councils to deliver.

North Yorkshire Council wants to go further, with what we are calling double-devolution. We would like communities, where they want to, to take on responsibility for some activities in their own areas. We will delegate this to them, but we won`t abdicate our responsibilities, so we will need to be assured that the undertakings are properly thought through and resourced. There will be no compulsion, and already a number of parishes have come forward with proposals and will become pilots.

None of this new way of working minimises the challenges North Yorkshire Council faces, some on its own, many working with partners. We have an ageing population which requires our support, we have children who need educating, many with special needs. We have one of the largest road networks with the damage that inclement weather brings. Our broadband network is not yet at 100 per cent.

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We need better power connections, we need to improve water quality. Our north-south road connections are good, our east-west ones much less so. We need to do more about climate change to meet an ambitious aspiration.

The list of challenges could go on, and our budgets are finite. We face many of the financial pressures that our residents do – inflation of foods and supplies, especially energy costs, higher interest rates, and more. We will set our council tax next February, as always within the dilemma of how much people can afford, but how much money we need to provide the essential services that our residents rely on. We have just launched our latest “Let`s Talk” consultation, this one about Money - priorities, demands, affordability. I would encourage our residents to respond, online or on paper from our libraries and leisure centres. Or talk to your elected Councillor. That's what we are here for.

So the new way of working does not minimise the challenges, but it does open up opportunities for us, and for new money and more money to come to us. Even before the Mayor's election next May, the government has shown good faith by releasing funds for brownfield housing developments, and for carbon reduction activities. We are working closely with the City of York Council, in cooperation, not competition, or opposition.

In my opinion the devolution deal negotiated with the government is a good deal when compared with others around the country, but its essential issue is that it is only the first step on the ladder of deals. For many of us this is an exciting time, the biggest change in local government since 1974. We need to seize the opportunity and elect a Mayor who shares our vision for the future.

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And the second phrase? UNITATE FORTIOR. Stronger Together. The motto of the previous North Yorkshire County Council, now the motto for the new North Yorkshire Council, chosen not because it was that former Council`s motto, but because it means something for the new Council, made up of seven former boroughs and districts, and one county council.

Councillor Carl Les is the leader of North Yorkshire Council.