The long-awaited talks are set to start in early March when the leaders of North Yorkshire County Council and York Council, as well as a representative from the county’s district authorities, meet the Minister for Levelling Up, Neil O’Brien.
The county council’s leader, Coun Carl Les, told The Yorkshire Post that he hoped the discussions will begin the process of mapping out exactly when a devolution deal to shift powers away from Westminster to North Yorkshire will be introduced.
Coun Les has previously spoken of his frustrations at the length of time it has taken to initiate the discussions with the Government, but he maintained that he now hopes progress can be made on key devolution requests on issues including transport improvements even before a deal is signed off.
He said: “We are at the start of this journey, and while there is still a great deal that needs to be discussed, it is nonetheless heartening to be beginning these discussions.
“Devolution is about decentralising spending and decision-making, and in principle it is the right thing to do to make those decisions closer to the communities that will benefit.
“But good government is when central government works closely with local government, and this needs to happen to make sure all the benefits can be felt for a devolution deal for North Yorkshire.”
Devolution is seen as a central platform to fulfilling the Government’s levelling-up agenda, which was a key pledge in the Conservative Party’s manifesto in the run-up to the 2019 General Election.
Political leaders in North Yorkshire have looked on with envy as deals unlocking decision-making powers for transport, education and housing and billions of pounds in funding have been signed in West and South Yorkshire as the Government pushed ahead with attempts to eradicate regional inequalities.
Ministers had stipulated a key requirement of any devolution deal for North Yorkshire was for the current two-tier system, with county and district councils, to be replaced by a single unitary authority. The new “super council” will be in place in the spring of 2023, marking a major step towards a devolution deal.
While council officers held their first discussions with civil servants in Whitehall last week, next month’s meeting will be the first time that official talks have been held between politicians.
York Council’s leader, Coun Keith Aspden, said it is “encouraging” to be progressing with negotiations to secure a devolution deal.
He added: “As formal negotiations progress, we will continue to make the case for York, prepare to consult more widely and put forward our residents’ priorities as we have done throughout this process.”
The Minister for Levelling Up has said he will work closely with local leaders in North Yorkshire to help “transform lives and spread prosperity” across the county.
Mr O’Brien, who is spearheading the Government’s bid to tackle regional inequalities, added: “Our landmark Levelling Up White Paper has brought forward the largest devolution of power from Whitehall to local leaders across England in modern times.
“Devolution will put power into the hands of people who know their communities best, empowering them to improve local skills or act more flexibly and innovatively to respond to local priorities.”