Robert Jenrick to hand more powers to Yorkshire's town and parish councils

Yorkshire's town and parish councils could be given a greater say over key local issues like parks and high streets when the Government's blueprint for devolution is unveiled later this year.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said the devolution White Paper to be published this Autumn will mean representatives at the lowest levels of local government will get more powers.

The 10,000 existing parish, towns, neighbourhood and community councils in England already have some discretionary powers to provide and maintain local amenities like bus shelters, footpaths, public toilets and car parks.

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But Mr Jenrick, whose department oversees all levels of local government, said the White Paper was "an opportunity to give more power to communities at the lowest level, many of whom played a crucial role in the pandemic".

The document will also outline how all parts of the country can get the powers already available to Greater Manchester's Andy Burnham, the most powerful metro mayor outside London, as part of the devolution process.

He said: "One of the lessons from the pandemic is the need for both really active community involvement with town and parish councils playing a crucial role in the decisions that matter to local people from parks and leisure and markets and running high streets.

"All of those things should be done at the lowest possible level, so they can be most responsive to local people's needs.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick. Pic: PA

"But then also very important parts of our country and our economy need to have strong strategic leadership with a powerful voice to central government and that's what we believe the mayors can offer."

Sheena Spence, chief officer at the Yorkshire Local Councils Association, said there were a number of councils in the region, "predominantly larger parish/town councils, that will welcome an opportunity to enhance their local service delivery".

She said: "Since the principal authorities have had to cut their budgets in the past few years, some parishes have already stepped in and are already exercising devolved powers but again, we and they would like the devo process to result in greater recognition of the strengths and flexibilities of the parish sector to deliver services.

"Eligible parishes can now use the Power of General Competence which opens up much scope for parish sector councils to get involved in services and projects that once may have been prohibitive to them.

"Finally, it is important, because of the value that they can bring to the process, that parishes have an opportunity to contribute to the devo process from the outset; they are the authorities that are closest to the people and can bring a grassroots perspective."

On Saturday in The Yorkshire Post, North Yorkshire County Council leader Carl Les outlined how a devolution deal in his area could lead to greater powers and funding being handed to parish and town councils.

The county council is working on a proposal to create a single unitary authority for the county, with its seven district authorities disbanded, after being told a shake-up of local government was a condition of a devolution deal.

Coun Les wrote: "Only two areas of the county – Harrogate and Scarborough – do not have town councils so we would offer to create them.

"They could then benefit from 'double devo' and draw down substantial powers if their residents want it.

"We would give people, voluntary organisations and businesses a louder voice via 25 community networks based around market town areas which would be the drivers of renewal and innovation from the bottom up.

"We would improve transparency through area constituency committees to oversee their local areas, champion their cause, strengthen relationships with their MPs and make important decisions locally on things such as planning and licensing. They would hold a North Yorkshire council to account."