Devolution, connectivity and green revolution ‘key to lockdown recovery’, says LEP chair

David Kerfoot.

A North Yorkshire business leader who has a long history of community service and is also the county’s High Sheriff has outlined the series of measures he believes are crucial to best enable the region’s economy and society to recover from lockdown.

David Kerfoot, who is chairman of the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), said research by the Northern Powerhouse 11 LEPs had found only Cumbria would be more affected by the crisis than North Yorkshire, pointing towards how tourism, hospitality and rural-based economies were suffering most.

Mr Kerfoot said a rapid move to complete the long-awaited devolution would ease the lockdown pain as mayoral combined authorities were clearly top of the government’s list of organisations to listen to.

He said: “The sooner that we become a devolved area with a combined authority, the better – more decisions will come locally, more funding will come to us. To get us through this virus challenge it will be a great help.”

More local decision-making is vital, said Mr Kerfoot, as beyond York and Ripon the overwhelming majority of businesses in the area were small and many in rural locations – the challenges of which “successive governments have never understood”.

He said: “At the moment we have got a blank sheet of paper and have a massive opportunity to really make our case in a number of ways and rebuild a much better future.

“Our vision is to come out of Covid in a greener way, in a fairer way, in a stronger way that ensures our economy grows.”

He said a core part of the recovery would be for the latest digital technologies to be available to everyone, including those in rural areas.

Mr Kerfoot said: “Before you can get 4G or 5G you have got to have a basic connection by fibre broadband and large parts of the region do not.” .

Another key part of the recovery process, he said, would be to create and support new forms of employment and lead as a region on the transition to a much greener society.

He said: “We have to face these challenges, roll up our sleeves and get on with the job and make something of it.

“Undoubtedly, the government and we as a LEP can’t help everybody and there will be casualties. But I’m hoping the stronger ones will survive and go on to contribute.”

Mr Kerfoot said it was also clear many small charities were “facing extinction”, due to lockdown, but he believed the community spirit which had become evident in recent months would continue due to “the type of people we have here in North Yorkshire”.

He warned government grant “money is going to be even tighter than before”, adding: “We are going to need the people in the towns and villages to put their hands in their pockets to help fund things, give donations.

“Despite Yorkshire having a reputation as being tight, I don’t think in any that we are. I think we are a county of givers.”

When asked about the apparent schism that has developed between urban and rural residents as lockdown measures are eased, he said healing would come in a natural way.

He said: “I think those people in rural areas were right in saying don’t come here at the moment, we don’t want the virus. We have seen some people acting in a completely ridiculous and irresponsible way. We all have a responsibility towards the coast and the countryside.”