Collaboration increases among Yorkshire’s councils

Carl Les, leader of North Yorkshire County Council.

An ambition has been revealed for councils across Yorkshire to increasingly collaborate and bring to bear its 5.3m population and £110bn economy, despite awaiting a decision by the Government over devolution.

The aim, which is understood to bridge the political divide, follows local authorities facing unprecedented budgetary pressures, including over special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provision.

In what is believed to be the first move of its kind across Yorkshire since austerity, all upper tier authorities in the region have called on both the Chancellor and Education Secretary to increase funding following a collective SEND overspend this year of nearly £42.7m.

Despite apparent disagreements over the who is to blame for the funding crisis, the Labour and Conservative-run councils have put political differences aside in a bid to secure the Government’s agreement to fully fund SEND provision in its forthcoming spending review.

The funding call comes ahead of a series of meetings between Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry and council leaders. Hopes have been raised the meetings could signal an imminent end to the region’s three-year wait for a deal similar to that in Greater Manchester.

North Yorkshire County Council leader Councillor Carl Les said in the meantime, the authorities had decided to use their collective power to highlight that without Government action, the SEND system would buckle.

He said: “This proves that Yorkshire can work together. We always did in the past. It seemed to slip a bit for a while, but the devolution decisions have brought us closer together again.

“I do see speaking with one voice more in the future.”

Cllr Les said before austerity the region’s councils had met regularly, but a “raft of sub groups had emerged and due to the subsequent bureaucracy” discussions ceased when local authority budgets became increasingly pressed.

He said the councils’ leaders were now able to meet “without other levels of bureaucracy” and among the first issues they had agreed to take action on was the SEND funding crisis.

Leeds City Council leader Councillor Judith Blake said while her authority had been working closely with councils across West Yorkshire for some time, the chance to work with councils across Yorkshire made sense.

She said: “We are increasingly working on a Yorkshire level. It is powerful, particularly when calling out the Government over where its policy is not working. We are all facing similar challenges.”

The councils’ leader agreed it had arisen due legislative reform in 2014.

However, while Labour councillor Blake accused the Government of dealing “a poor hand to the some of the nation’s most vulnerable children and young people”, Tory Cllr Les said the crisis had been difficult to foresee.