Harrogate council backs £2bn devolution proposals


Aug 28, 2020
Harrogate Borough Council offices.

Harrogate Borough Council is to press ahead and support a list of devolution proposals, which includes £2 billion worth of spending power for York and North Yorkshire.

The borough council will support the proposals, known as “asks”, after the authority’s overview and scrutiny commission found “no fundamental concerns” with the council leader’s decision to approve the report earlier this month.

It comes as each council needs to approve the asks ahead of a submission to government. North Yorkshire County Council supported the document last month, along with City of York Council and Scarborough District Council.

But Hambleton District Council has voted to defer a decision until the publication of the government’s white paper in the autumn, which leaves uncertainty over when the submission will be made.

Once all councils have agreed, the requests are tabled to government and ministers will produce a formal devolution deal for authorities to vote on.

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The “asks” document is intended to start negotiations with government over what the county wants from a devolution deal. It is separate from the proposals for local government reorganisation and how the new authority or authorities would be structured.

More powers over transport, skills, regeneration and energy are included in the submission, as well as a mayoral funding pot worth £750 million over 25 years.

Both Cllr Richard Cooper and chief executive Wallace Sampson, top middle and top left, addressed the committee over the devolution “asks”.

Further funding proposals include a five-year transport settlement worth £250 million, £520 million of devolved funding for fibre connectivity, and a £230 million fund for the new mayor to share between the county’s towns.

Liberal Democrat councillors, including opposition leader Cllr Pat Marsh, said the report was “heavily about York” and there was little in the requests which covered Harrogate, Knaresborough and Ripon.

But Cllr Richard Cooper, leader of the council, told the scrutiny meeting today that the document outlined plans which would benefit the wider district.

Abolishing districts “could save £2.94 billion”

Meanwhile, County Councils Network today released a report which said the replacement of two-tier systems with a single unitary authority in areas would save £2.94 billion nationally over five years.

The report by PricewaterhouseCoopers said replacing county and district councils with two unitary authorities in each area would reduce the financial benefit to £1 billion.

It comes as the government has set a requirement that any devolution bid must come with reorganisation of local government.

Cllr David Williams, chairman of the County Councils Network, said:

“The consequences of coronavirus for local government finances, and the need to work quickly to support the economic recovery, means more councils want to look again at how local government is structured in their area.

“This government has already signalled that it wants to see many more unitary councils created and it is important we get it right for our residents – we do not want to look back on this period as a missed opportunity.

“The findings from PwC show there is a compelling financial case for the creation of more unitary counties where councils seek reorganisation. They will provide significant savings to support frontline services and the stability needed to safeguard care services as we continue to mitigate the impact of coronavirus. Crucially, it will create councils of the necessary size to support local economies to recover from the pandemic and drive forward the devolution and levelling up agendas.”

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