Civic leaders in rural North Yorkshire have been warned that they will have to embrace the “alien concept” of an elected mayor if they are to feel the benefits of devolution.
Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry has urged the county council, City of York and seven district leaders to sign a letter kicking off talks about the transfer of powers and funding from Whitehall to England’s largest county.
It is feared North Yorkshire, whose leaders have almost all previously backed a One Yorkshire deal for the entire region, is being left behind as South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire move forward quickly in talks with government.
And Carl Les, the Tory leader of North Yorkshire County Council, said he was casting an envious eye north to the Tees Valley, where elected metro mayor Ben Houchen has been handed hundreds of millions of pounds in extra funding.
The latest attempt to bring devolution to North Yorkshire was a conference call last week between Mr Berry and North Yorkshire’s leaders, who were mostly gathered in York.
The Minister urged them to sign a letter to Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick and Exchequer Secretary Simon Clarke agreeing to move on with further talks on how a devolved North Yorkshire authority could work.
Coun Les said Mr Berry issued a “very clear message” that a Yorkshire-wide deal would not happen in this Parliament and that devolution would require the creation of an elected metro mayor like those in Greater Manchester and the West Midlands.
He told The Yorkshire Post: “We all think it is alien concept for North Yorkshire. The idea of a mayor in North Yorkshire tends to be someone in the parish council and their turn comes round to do something.
“We are all pragmatic enough to know that if this is the Prime Minister’s position and we can have devolution but it comes with an elected mayor position than let us have that elected mayor and move on.
”We are aware that we are falling behind, I look at the Tees Valley and what Ben Houchen is doing, it is almost every week that he is announcing some new funding stream.
”It is not fair to North Yorkshire that we are not pursuing a devolution deal and gainshare funding and decision-making powers about how we spend that money.”
Mr Berry is understood to have told the leaders that as part of negotiations he expected leaders to consider “how the local government family would work together”.
This means they would need to consider whether a restructuring of local councils – including radical options such as creating one unitary authority for the whole county – would be necessary.
Hambleton council leader Mark Robson said: “What is evident from the meeting is that the structure of local government in North Yorkshire would be visited as part of any devolution deal but for the deal and any restructuring to take place there needed to be unanimous support from all affected parties.
“Also, what was made very clear was that any deal would not be predicated on local government re-organisation, indeed a deal was imminently possible whilst maintaining the current structures.”