Scrapping devolution deal in North Yorkshire would betray voters who put Boris Johnson in Downing Street, council leader warns

The leader of North Yorkshire County Council has called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to deliver on his pledge to level up the nation’s economy after fears have emerged that a devolution deal for the county is in jeopardy.

The county council is spearheading a campaign to create a unitary authority spanning the whole of England’s largest county to allow a wide-ranging devolution deal to be agreed with the Government.

A bid document which is being prepared sets out a series of requests to the Government totalling £2.4bn which would be spent over a 30-year period on issues including infrastructure, rural transport, skills and education.

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However, Coun Carl Les has warned the Government that any decision to halt the devolution process for North Yorkshire would be a betrayal of voters who put their faith in Mr Johnson’s administration to tackle regional inequalities.

North Yorkshire County Council leader Carl Les. Photo: JPI Media

In a letter to Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick, Coun Les said: “Devolution is already taking hold of our big cities and urban areas, we need to make sure that people who live in the other areas of the North, and who supported change at the last General Election, are not left behind. Rural areas such as North Yorkshire and Cumbria need to benefit too.

“As local government, we fully accept the principle of accountability. I have previously championed a mayor for One Yorkshire but was content to accept the Prime Minister’s clear view that Yorkshire needed separate deals.

“South Yorkshire has a deal, West Yorkshire’s was recently agreed and Hull and East Riding are in advanced discussions – this part of Yorkshire must not be left out in the cold.”

Former Local Government Minister Simon Clarke announced plans for the North Yorkshire deal in July. However, Mr Clarke stepped down from that ministerial role this month, and fears have been growing that the Government is about to ditch devolution for North Yorkshire.

The York and North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership’s chairman, David Kerfoot, said: “It has always been one of the biggest challenges that North Yorkshire does not have a devolution deal.

“It is clear the Government always looks to those areas of the country which have deals and elected mayors first. It has been very frustrating, and at the moment, I do feel North Yorkshire is very much in a second division.

“We have the chance to move forward with devolution, and the prize is huge. We are so near to getting a deal and I do not want to see that golden prize disappear.

“It would be life-changing for the whole of North Yorkshire.”

Council leaders were told by Mr Clarke that to unlock a devolution deal, North Yorkshire’s eight county and district councils must be scrapped for one or more unitary authorities. The county council is behind plans for a single unitary authority, while the seven district councils are proposing two east/west authorities either side of the A1. York Council would remain a unitary authority under the proposals, but with closer links to the new structure of local government.

In his letter to Mr Jenrick, Coun Les added: “I ask you to keep to your commitment for devolution for the North, follow up on your promises and ask of us, and deliver for all of Yorkshire.

“Do not leave North Yorkshire and York behind - we need to move on now.”