A devolution deal for North Yorkshire could be at risk and clarity is needed on the future of local government, says North Yorkshire County Council’s leader.
Cllr Carl Les told the Stray Ferret that he was “hopeful” that a deal could still be put on the table.
But he added there were concerns the government is considering delaying publishing a white paper on devolution amid the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit negotiations.
A meeting between Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Mr Jenrick was due to take place today over devolution.
Ministers approached the council leaders in the county in July over devolved powers. Former local government minister Simon Clarke – who resigned earlier this month – made it a requirement to shake up the current council structure ahead of any devolution bid.
Councils were supposed to be invited to submit plans for a restructure of local government on September 7.
But Cllr Les said the authority is still waiting for a letter of invitation from ministers to lodge the new authority plans.
Following a meeting with the County Council Network, which represents county councils across the country, council leaders agreed that the current situation “was not helpful”.
As a result, Cllr Les wrote to Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Local Government, last Friday urging him for clarity and to express his “deepest concerns” over a potential deal.
He said that county council leaders were “despondent” at the current position, with some, including Surrey County Council’s leader, fearing plans for reform were “dead”.
In his letter to Mr Jenrick, Cllr Les said:
“To be clear this is the future and opportunity for more than 800,000 people at a critical moment, as we all strive to drive renewed economies and create jobs for people following the body blow delivered by the coronavirus pandemic.
“As you are aware, and amongst other pressures that we have been dealing with extremely effectively, we have been working hard with your ministers and officials to secure a devolution deal for the benefit of everyone here.
“One that will level up life chances and outcomes for people across the county and seek to end the North-South divide, powering up the North so it can play its full part in the national economy and agenda.
“I am alarmed to hear that this deal could be at risk and want to say to you in the strongest possible terms that it is needed now, more than ever.”
He added that should devolution not be introduced across England, the county would be willing to pilot mayoral authorities for rural areas.
“I call upon you and the Prime Minister to use all of the innovative thinking at your disposal to consider how our position could fit into a northern concept.
“Should you decide not to introduce devolution deals across the whole of England – I am confident that I, and colleagues across the north would be willing to pilot the idea of mayoral authorities for rural areas here.
“The north has always been willing to be the first to implement new thinking and new ideas. 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.”
Cllr Les said he had also sent a private note to both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor over the issue.
- Districts to launch alternative council reorganisation bid
- County to draw up plans for single North Yorkshire council
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government maintained that it will set out “detailed plans” in the white paper this Autumn.
A spokesperson said:
“We want to decentralise giving more power to local communities, providing opportunities for them to enjoy devolution. There will be no blanket abolishment of district councils and no top-down restructuring of local government.
“The devolution white paper, which will be published this Autumn, will set out our detailed plans and we continue to work closely with local areas to establish solutions to local government reform.”
What was the timetable for devolution?
The two camps – district councils and county council – have to wait for an invitation from government to submit their proposals.
Once that is done, the government will choose its preferred option and consult with the public, councils and other public bodies on that model.
Once the minister has received all the responses, he will decide on whether to set up a new authority.
To do this, the government will have to pass a piece of legislation through Parliament to create the new authority. No new council will be created until it is approved.
Councils do not get another vote on the new authority – the process is handled by Parliament.
While no specific timetable has been set for the reorganisation, government had told council officials that they would like to see a new authority by 2022.
County council bosses are confident that their model could meet this timescale, but the districts believe it is more likely that a new authority would be in place by 2023.