Hopes rekindled of Yorkshire devolution progress

County Hall, Northallerton.

Local authority leaders left frustrated by years of failed devolution attempts have expressed optimism that a One Yorkshire solution may be accepted in future.

Ahead of devolution talks between North Yorkshire and York council leaders later this week, Conservative sources said Boris Johnson and Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry have dismissed suggestions that the party’s northern general election victories would see the government approve a One Yorkshire deal.

Party insiders said the party’s leaders have also rejected talk that North Yorkshire could be broken up to enable districts neighbouring West Yorkshire, such as Craven and Harrogate, to form a Leeds-based partnership.

The apparent dismissal comes as interim deals are taking place between the government and the Leeds City Region with only three months left until the West Yorkshire authorities’ devolution funding expires.

It is also understood the Conservative Party’s leadership is nervous about giving another area the amount of power that was granted to Manchester following tensions between the government and Manchester’s elected mayor Andy Burnham.

Council leaders said it had become clear that rather than pursue the One Yorkshire union, which was backed by 18 out of the region’s 20 councils, the government wanted to see separate mayors for South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, East Yorkshire and North Yorkshire and York as they could be delivered more quickly.

However, party sources said the government has not ruled out the One Yorkshire ambition completely and have suggested they might consider a merger of the Yorkshire authorities in the long term if the smaller versions prove successful.

Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority chief executive David Butterworth said: “In quite a bit of a rush it has come to a situation where the West Yorkshire devolution deal looks like it might be a bit of a goer fairly quickly.

“North Yorkshire is in a position saying what have we got left, should we do a deal with ourselves or with East Yorkshire.

“The theme that is coming out of North Yorkshire, in terms of what should be driving the economy over the coming ten years, appears to be related to climate change and green energy. They are looking for a unique selling point that  is different from the rest of the country and that might be what comes to the fore.”

Craven District Council leader Richard Foster said it was clear there was potential for a North Yorkshire and York bid called City of York Region, but said he was maintaining hopes a One Yorkshire solution could be agreed in future.

He said: “We are all inter-linked so the idea is the Yorkshire model works best because you do actually get functional geography. But we have had a change of government and potentially have a change of minister in February, but at the same time the previous funding packages all run out in April, so we need to get something in place.”

While some council leaders hope the government’s position has changed due to the election Councillor Carl Les, leader of North Yorkshire County Council, said he believed the more localised plans the government has put on offer was the only option at the moment.

He said: “We need to start negotiations with some urgency as the whole point about devolution is to improve the situation in areas. We can see we are falling behind Manchester and the Tees Valley.”

Cllr Les said following talks with the government over what powers would be handed over, councils would need to convince electorates that it would benefit them.

He said: “It is frustrating devolution has taken this long so far, but the prize is worth pursuing, not only because decisions would be made in the town halls rather than Whitehall, but also there is a considerable amount of extra money that comes with these deals.

“The consensus is around One Yorkshire and that can continue to be an aspiration and the smaller geographical deals can be considered stepping stones towards that aspiration.”