A Richmondshire councillor has questioned claims there is “widespread support” for devolution in North Yorkshire after almost half of respondents to a consultation over the proposed governance change declined to back it.
North Yorkshire County Council’s Conservative-run executive will next Tuesday be asked to consider pressing ahead with plans to create a devolved government for the county and York, which it claims will bring “a host of benefits”, including new jobs, more affordable housing and measures to tackle climate change.
The council’s leader, Councillor Carl Les, said: “To have so many people taking part in the public engagement is very welcome, as it shows the interest that is there on the proposed devolution deal.
“The responses will be carefully considered by the county council before a decision is taken to submit the results of the engagement to the Government.”
Ahead of the meeting the authority issued a press release highlighting “widespread support” for its proposals, however a council report to the executive underlines some 46 per cent per cent of respondents to the consultation did not support the planned governance arrangements.
Leader of the opposition Independents group on the authority, Councillor Stuart Parsons, said: “I find it astounding that the council believes the support for its devolution proposals is widespread.
“I would have thought if they had got 60 to 70 per cent support they could claim that is widespread, but at the moment it sounds like it is thinly spread.”
An officer’s report to the executive recommends it endorses sending the consultation’s results to ministers to open the way for a combined authority, overseen by an elected mayor, which is scheduled to be established later this year.
Organisations ranging from the Tees Valley Combined Authority, the York to the Yorkshire Food, Farming and Rural Network said they recognised the proposed combined authority was a tried and tested way of building strong local leadership with new powers.
Of the 583 people who provided comments that supported the proposed governance arrangements, numerous people raised concerns over increased bureaucracy.
However, others said the proposal would result in an increase in democratic accountability, decentralising decision-making in York and North Yorkshire, enabling councils to “work together as one instead of piecemeal” and magnify the area’s voice on the national stage.
Supporters of the proposed deal said York and North Yorkshire could not compete for government funding with big cities in isolation and the proposed mayoral combined authority would offer both a stronger voice and routes to new and enhanced funding.
Nevertheless, of the 501 people who opposed the proposals, many raised concerns about increased bureaucracy, while others said there were too many politicians in the area without having the expense of a mayor and associated staff.
Opponents of the proposed devolution deal said it would introduce an additional layer of local government almost immediately after combining district, borough and county councils into a singular North Yorkshire Council.
Opponents also said the proposed system would erode democratic accountability, increasing distances between residents and
decision-makers, taking power away into the large centres of population.
There were concerns expressed over the proportionality of representation between York and North Yorkshire, with many arguing that it would be fairer for the number of decision-making representatives on the proposed combined authority to be based on the two area’s populations.