North Yorkshire could have a directly elected mayor as soon as 2024.
The move could unlock significant funding for the county, with the mayor responsible for allocating much of it.
He or she would assume control over areas such as transport and economic development for the whole of North Yorkshire. The mayoral office could also swallow up the role of the North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner.
The government announced yesterday that it would open negotiations over a devolution deal, including a mayor, with leaders at North Yorkshire County Council and City of York Council as part of its levelling up agenda.
Cllr Carl Les, leader of North Yorkshire County Council, and Cllr Keith Aspden, leader of City of York Council, said they welcomed the decision by ministers, which could bring £2 billion worth of funding as part of the deal.
Council officials submitted a list of requests for devolved powers to government in December 2020 but negotiations were delayed by covid and the publication of the levelling up white paper.
‘Devolution can drive growth’
In a joint statement responding to the decision, Cllr Les and Cllr Aspden said:
“Yesterday’s announcement of a levelling up white paper brings York and North Yorkshire a step closer to a devolution deal.
“Devolution can unlock significant, long-term, investment for this region, driving growth and contributing to a stronger northern economy. It has the potential to bring improvements to areas such as public transport, infrastructure, support for businesses, education and skills, benefitting the people who live and work here.
“A devolution deal could also help deliver an ambition for this region to become England’s first carbon negative economy. We therefore welcome the commitment shown for levelling up and devolution in this announcement.
“We now look forward to entering into negotiations with government to secure the best possible deal for our region. We hope to see York and North Yorkshire taken forward as the first city-region rural powerhouse to make devolution a reality.”
In December 2020, council bosses submitted to government a 140-page document which outlined £2.4 billion worth of spending and proposals to take back further powers from Westminster.
More powers over transport, skills, regeneration and energy were included in the submission, as well as a mayoral funding pot worth £750 million over 25 years.
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Further funding proposals included 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.
However, Richard Flinton, chief executive of North Yorkshire County Council, said the deal was subject to negotiations. He added that the deal would also be more than just the funding.
“What we have seen with other combined authorities is that it’s not necessarily about the devolution deal.
“What we have seen is a strong voice for a single county. This is not just about the deal, it is about constant engagement with government.”
The move towards a devolution deal comes as ministers made it a requirement that a unitary council is set up in North Yorkshire before any negotiations could proceed.
A mayor for North Yorkshire and York by 2024
Mr Flinton also told a press conference this morning that the timetable for negotiations could see a mayor in place in the county by May 2024.
A combined authority for the county, which would be headed by the mayor, could also be in place by 2023.
Mr Flinton said:
“We are going to work with government over the coming months with a view to a mayoral election in May 2024.
“That is subject to a number of factors and the deal that we do with government.”
The directly elected mayor could have powers over areas such as transport and economic development.
Mayors can also take on the role of police and crime commissioner for their area.
Mr Flinton pointed to other mayors in England, such as Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester and Ben Houchen in the Tees Valley, as examples of what council leaders were trying to achieve.
Mr Flinton added:
“He [Burnham] has got quite a broad suite of powers in terms of managing transport, skills and a coordinating role in the health service.”
The role of the mayor in North Yorkshire will be subject to further negotiations with government over the coming months.