Richmondshire council leaders issue devolution warning

Richmondshire council leader Angie Dale.

District council leaders have warned they could veto a devolution deal if they are not handed decision-making powers in a new authority covering North Yorkshire and York with a mayor at the helm.

The warnings, seemingly issued to the leaders of City of York Council and North Yorkshire County Council, follow the then Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry earlier this month asking the county council leader and seven district council leaders to review how the authorities are organised.

The request, which came ahead of the councils brokering a devolution deal with the government, has rekindled a long-running debate over whether the 3,341sq mile area should be run by a two-tier county and district council system, which some claim is more representative, or have a unitary authority, which it is believed could save up to £40m a year in taxpayers money.

Following a meeting between some of the district council leaders, it is understood some are behind maintaining the status quo as they view devolution as the “main prize”, while others have called for the districts to take over the county council’s functions.

Local authority sources have said much of the debate between the seven district councils and City of York and North Yorkshire County Council rests on whether votes in the new authority should be weighted according to population.

However, they added while ministers were behind devolution, civil servants in Whitehall would not give up their powers without a battle, so it was important “not to get side-tracked”.

A meeting of Richmondshire District Council heard its former leader Councillor Yvonne Peacock say the North Yorkshire and York devolution deal, rather than the One Yorkshire deal embracing most of Yorkshire, was “what a tremendous lot of people were actually wanting”, as there would be fewer leaders around the table.

She said: “It is important that Richmondshire has a seat at that table underneath the mayor. Without that it would be difficult to put forward the things that we would like.”

The authority’s leader Councillor Angie Dale highlighted that it would “only takes one area to veto” the deal, adding: “At the moment I can see one particular that may do that.”

She added: “If we didn’t have a seat around the table that’s potentially when I hope everybody in this room would say we don’t want to play ball then.

“So we could be one of those councils who say no to devolution. Without our voice being very strongly heard because of where we sit and our landscape I think it’s integral that we do.”

Ahead of a crunch meeting between the council leaders next week, county council leader, Councillor Carl Les said the principle of devolution was still well-founded.

He said: “It moves decision-making from Whitehall to the town hall and there is some money that comes with it called Gain Share, that will be measured in millions of pounds and that will be very useful in continuing to provide high quality services for the citizens of York and North Yorkshire.

“At the next meeting we will be looking at council officers’ progress in developing a series of asks that we can put to the government and a potential timetable for devolution and a suggestion how we could address the previous minister’s request that the local government family in North Yorkshire considers how it organises itself and does its business.

“The real debate has to be about how we can lever a devolution deal for North Yorkshire and York that will benefit our residents.”