Central government doesn't understand the challenges of rural Yorkshire and that's why devolution is a game-changer, says North Yorkshire rural commissioner Jean MacQuarrie

Organisations across North Yorkshire have told the county's Rural Commission that central government "doesn't understand the challenges faced by rural economies and communities".

One of the commissioners, former newspaper editor Jean MacQuarrie, said a devolution deal which would see powers and funding handed to a North Yorkshire mayor would be a "game-changer" for the county.

Ms MacQuarrie, who comes from a farming background in North Yorkshire, said she wanted the commission's report to tackle the "lived reality" for people which meant issues like whether village schools might close, accessing banking facilities and getting to a doctor on public transport.

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And she said the debate over the 'levelling up' agenda promoted by Prime Minister Boris Johnson "was absolutely dominated by economic and social needs of urban areas, rather than recognising that significant potential of rural, and sparsely populated areas of North Yorkshire".

The former Editor-in-Chief of JPIMedia's Yorkshire Weeklies series said: "We often talk about transforming the region into a rural powerhouse which I think is a great phrase for North Yorkshire.

"So leveling up is going to be less effective if it comes from central government. And that's why devolution is one of our key themes. It's an absolute priority for rural North Yorkshire in fact, it's a game changer.

"It will unlock huge funding to address all the issues that we're looking at like digital connectivity, energy transition, rural housing, transport.

"And crucially the commissioners are saying that devolution will give the control for decision making and funding priorities within the region so it's not from the top down, from central government and that decisions are made by people in rural North Yorkshire, who will understand the lived reality."

Talks between central government and North Yorkshire leaders over a £2.4bn devolution deal which contains measures for the county to become the country's first carbon-negative economy are in their early stages.

And a decision is expected soon on whether the current two-tier system of local government in North Yorkshire will be replaced by one authority covering the whole county or two authorities split down the A1.

The commission took evidence from 70 people and organizations and about 30 written representations. Mss MacQuarrie said: "We're repeatedly hearing that national government just doesn't understand the challenges faced by rural economies and communities."

The commission has called for the Government to agree a devolution deal as a matter of urgency and for North Yorkshire County Council to set up an advisory task force to take its recommendations forward.

Ms MacQuarrie said strong leadership was important as there was "a myriad of organizations coming at all these issues for all North Yorkshire, but it needs to be brought together".

She said: "Communities are absolutely front and center of that. But that leadership, time and again we heard that although there are lots of leaders in individual areas, strong overall leadership is really really crucial."