North Yorkshire Devolution Explained

The most significant shakeup of local government since 1974 is about to change the North Yorkshire administration map for many years to come – and whatever the outcome, due to be implemented in March 2022 – it will have an impact on all of the region’s residents and businesses.

And with the deadline looming and the debate heating up, Harrogate BID has asked local resident, John Harris, to explain what Devolution will mean to Yorkshire as a whole, and more importantly what is being proposed for our county of North Yorkshire and our District of Harrogate in terms of local government.

In addition to John’s article, we have included information from North Yorkshire County Council, a joint letter to businesses from its Leader, Coun Carl Les, and Chief Executive, Richard Flinton, and information compiled by the Leaders of North Yorkshire’s district and borough councils.

Incidentally, Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce’s forthcoming meeting, being held via Zoom on Monday, September 7, at 6pm, will hear from the Leaders and Chief Executives of both NYCC and Harrogate Borough Council, who will put forward their differing Unitary Authority proposals.

If you have a view and want it to be heard, you are encouraged to write to your local MP as well as Simon Clarke MP, the Minister of State (Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government) at who is charged with Yorkshire Devolution.

Local Government Services Matter To Business – How They Are Delivered Matters To Harrogate Business

The government has proposed that Yorkshire should operate not as One Yorkshire Together but as four separate areas, each with an Executive Mayor to work alongside unitary local government councils with powers and a budget devolved from central government.

This will mean wholesale change in North Yorkshire as there are nine existing councils which would be replaced as from April/May 2022.

The government criteria for new unitary authorities states that a minimum acceptable population level is 300,000 and the optimum is 400,000 – the population of North Yorkshire and York is 820,705 (2018) so we can expect two unitary authorities to replace the nine current councils – and if the councils do not agree on one preferred solution by the autumn, the government will impose one. It is suggested that the government look for a balance of population and of the economic base between the new unitary councils.

Local government is important; a locally elected democratic organisation is a vital ingredient still in our society to deliver services which matter. It matters to business in Harrogate that the government gets this right.

The Leader of NYCC has suggested that the answer is to create the existing county council area into one unitary authority alongside the existing York City Council unitary authority and disbanding the seven existing district councils.

Local government services involve education, social services, highways, area promotion, economic development, strategic and local planning, housing, public health, refuse collection and disposal, recreation and leisure, parks, arts and entertainment and in Harrogate town, the Convention Centre and tourist attractions.

The seven district councils have tasked management consultants KPMG to carry out a study and to work with them to identify the most appropriate model for this local government reorganisation.

The economic and geographical factors and clear community interests will need to be balanced in assessing structures which would be more efficient, effective, economical, and representative than the duplication we have at present. All will have a local perspective – Scarborough will not see things like Harrogate – York will not see things like Richmond but the seven shire district councils have indicated they do not support the whole of the present North Yorkshire county council area being one council only.

For Harrogate business what are the critical factors for the local government structure?

In terms of economic community of interest, York, Selby, Harrogate (and Craven) have all been part of the Leeds City Region, recognised by successive  governments, supported by the travel-to-work area statistics, the transport usage and pressures, and the economic interests and characteristics. To the north, Richmondshire and the Northallerton area of Hambleton look to Teesside and Durham, not to Harrogate.

How significant is it that Harrogate and York together are the main urban centres in the area with commuter profiles, both part of the Leeds City Region, with similar profiles for their economies (tourism and visitors with major heritage attractions, conference/exhibition delegates, service and some production industry, growth areas for housing and employment, transport infrastructure and investment)? Conversely how can the county’s distinctive countryside and coastal areas and agricultural interests be best represented?

The choice favoured by the district councils is to associate each urban centre (Harrogate and York) with the rural areas to their north (ie east with York/west with Harrogate options) which would achieve a rough balance of population and economic base.

So, where could the best interests of ‘Harrogate’ lie – the Harrogate BID town centre area, the town as a whole of around 75,000 people, the Harrogate and Knaresborough Parliamentary constituency. The wider district with a population of 160,533. And what do Knaresborough, Ripon, Masham, Pateley Bridge and Boroughbridge think as part of the current wider district?

The present local government structure goes back to 1974. Whatever is put in place from 2022, after nearly 50 years, can be expected to last a very long time.

Individually and collectively business can make its views known to government and to their member of Parliament.

This article was produced in conjunction with John Harris, a local Harrogate resident, and those who wish to consider the issues further might like to look at two articles on Yorkshire Bylines:

Proposals for a North Yorkshire executive mayor

And a follow up article:

The unfolding saga of the proposed unitary authorities for North Yorkshire