North Yorkshire and Harrogate clash over devolution plans

Carl LesCarl Les
Carl Les
THE ROW over the future of decision-making in Yorkshire deepened today as Conservative councillors clashed with each other over rival devolution plans.

North Yorkshire County Council leader Carl Les branded a proposed Harrogate Council vote next month on whether the district should join West Yorkshire authorities to take more control over their own affairs as “unnecessary and premature”.

And a second senior county council figure suggested Harrogate joining a ‘Leeds City Region’ deal would guarantee the town had a Labour elected mayor committed to putting up taxes.

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The Government has already struck a series of ‘devolution deals’ with areas including South Yorkshire which will see them handed more powers in areas such as transport and skills in return for the creation of new elected mayors in 2017.

West Yorkshire councils have held talks with ministers over a Leeds City Region agreement which could include neighbouring parts of North Yorkshire.

But North Yorkshire County council is part of a group of authorities pursuing a rival proposal, known as Greater Yorkshire, that would see a single devolution deal struck covering the whole of West, North and East Yorkshire.

North Yorkshire has also expressed concern about the potential impact on the wider county of districts such as Craven and Harrogate deciding their future lies in partnership with West Yorkshire.

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Amid growing belief that West Yorkshire will strike some kind of deal in the coming weeks which would kill off any hope for a Greater Yorkshire plan, the county has been working on a fallback plan involving a partnership with York and East Riding councils.

Coun Les said: “This vital decision on whether Harrogate district should remain with North Yorkshire or move decision-making powers to West Yorkshire is far too important to be taken too soon or too quickly.

“I would ask Harrogate councillors to wait a short time for every option to be put before them.

“I am concerned that Harrogate Borough Council is bringing the extremely important devolution matter for determination to council next week when such a decision is unnecessary and premature.

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“I believe that members of the council are being asked to make a choice whilst various devolution deals are still being negotiated with government.

“Surely the right time to take that decision is when there are clear options set out fully and clearly for councillors to consider.”

Coun Don Mackenzie, an executive member of the Conservative-run county council and also a member of the Conservative ruling group on Harrogate Council, said: “Why not wait until we have all the options set out very clearly before us.

“It is my firm opinion that the best solution for Harrogate is to stay in the North Yorkshire, York and East Riding devolution bid, which has at its heart the ambitions and priorities of North Yorkshire, and especially of Harrogate,”

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But Harrogate Council leader Richard Cooper insisted the proposed vote on joining the Leeds City Region would not rule out other possible partnerships.

He said: “I have repeatedly asked when a York, North Yorkshire and East Riding proposal is likely to come forward and received no reply. As late as last Saturday I met the leader of North Yorkshire County Council and still no date was given.

“What I am giving Harrogate councillors is a choice over which combined authority it wishes to seek membership of to ensure we obtain the best devolution deal for the district. Over the short term, we therefore need to decide whether to proceed with associate membership of a proposed Leeds City Region Combined Authority in time for the legal framework to be completed.”