The leader of North Yorkshire County Council’s ruling Conservative group says the deal to hand central government powers to local authorities serving the county and York will need to be “negotiated with vigour”.
Councillor Carl Les, who looks set to be elected as the authority’s leader on Wednesday, said while ministers had agreed devolution was the right thing to do, they remained needing to be convinced that the two local authorities are doing the right thing taking on those powers.
He said: “There’s no God-given right to these options, but I’m confident we can put a good case forward for them.”
Coun Les’ cautionary comments come despite attempts in recent months to align the devolution requests with government policies and priorities, which has seen some key asks dropped.
Some of the devolution requests previously put forward to government include £175 million to develop an innovation ecosystem connecting academia, industry and policy-makers, and the co-development of a tourism plan between York and North Yorkshire, and Visit Britain with joint investment in future.
Other requests have included £10 million for a low carbon skills programme to upskill the workforce in low carbon industries together with a devolved adult education budget.
In a statement to the first full meeting of the new county council next week, Councillor Les said: “What is clear is that all asks will need to be negotiated with vigour – the principle of devolution has been agreed, there is no automatic right of passage.”
Coun Les said he and Councillor Keith Aspden, leader of City of York Council, had been advised by Levelling Up Minister Neil O’Brien that the region was first in the queue for devolution and that he hoped the would maintain that position.
The Tory leader, who has been pressing for devolution as a way of bringing in extra funding and introducing local knowledge since taking the helm of the county council in 2015, said Whitehall officials had revealed there is a possibility a devolution deal could be concluded before the Parliamentary summer recess, which starts on July 21.
He said: “There’s a clear picture that we need to negotiate on a number of asks that we have put forward. We have had a little bit of a delay in the fact that until last Friday we didn’t know who the 90 members of the new council were.
“We still need to ratify who the leader of the council will be and who the executive members are as they are the people who are empowered to do the negotiations.
“I think with the minister’s background, having worked as an advisor to George Osborne before he became an MP, I have every confidence we can have good meaningful dicussions with him, but the devil will be in the detail.”
When asked which of the devolution asks was most important to hold on to during negotations with government, Coun Les replied: “We need the whole blend of these asks to enable us to move forward with the over-arching principle to give us the decision-making powers here and that we will make better quality decisions on the ground than people who who are making decisions 220 miles away.”