Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce News

Letter from Richard Flinton NYCC - Devolution

19 Aug 2020 by Richard Flinton

Good Afternoon,

Thank you for your invitation to speak to the Harrogate Chamber members on the 7th September about the unitary proposals for the area that are currently being developed.  Carl and I would be pleased to join the meeting

I thought it might be worth giving you a brief overview of how we have reached this point which I am happy for you to share with your members if you feel it is useful.  I have attached a short briefing note too for information.

As you may be aware the authorities within the York and North Yorkshire area have been developing a Devolution bid to Government and we had been discussing the approach with Government to secure the best deal for the area.  To that end we had just reached agreement between the City of York Council, North Yorkshire County Council and all 7 Districts within North Yorkshire on the deal we wished to submit to Government.  Then just a few weeks ago we were advised by Simon Clarke, Minister for MHCLG, that Government had decided it was only prepared to enter into Devolution discussions if the area introduced unitary authorities across that geography.  In addition stating clearly that the number of unitary authorities across the whole geography would be one or two at the most.

Following discussions with the City of York, who are clear they wish to retain their existing unitary authority on the current boundaries, we are developing our proposal as a single unitary authority covering the existing North Yorkshire County Council footprint.  This would therefore meet the Governments requirement of a maximum of two unitary authorities in the area.

There has been concern expressed from some quarters that the area is too large or that the population is too great and such an organisation could not deliver the services required effectively.  I would have to strongly disagree with that view I would point to a number of key examples.  Firstly I would point to our existing performance and service delivery on this same geography.

What should be made clear as a comparison is that a unitary authority would deliver services in the order of £600m a year over this area, currently North Yorkshire County Council deliver £500m worth of those services so the increase in service delivery is only around 20%.  The most significant services in terms of cost and size are Adult Care, Children’s services, Highways and Waste disposal, all these services are already delivered by the County Council and are delivered to a very high standard against national benchmarks.

The opportunities that do exist are around long term strategic planning, place shaping and master planning at local level, access to additional funding through devolution and gain share, resilience through emergency, and significant efficiency through scale delivery savings of over £25m a year.

The solution is far from remote service delivery through an organisation based In Northallerton.  Our staff are already based locally around the county and in the future following what we have learnt through the pandemic, our staff will work more from home meaning they will be better distributed at all levels in the organisation. Most importantly we will be looking to work more closely with parish and town councils, in fact I think there is a strong argument that Harrogate and Scarborough should consider the creation of Town Councils to facilitate that local engagement.  Currently for example there is unnecessary tension in the area between local towns and cities ie Harrogate, Ripon and Knaresborough.  Localities will be able to develop their own place masterplans relative to their aspirations within a wider long term strategic plan for the whole area.

Crucially the size of population, 600,000 and area covered will provide the scale and resources to establish a long term approach to growth developed from both a strategic and local level, whilst ensuring the organisation has the resilience to cope with major events such as we have faced in recent years, flooding, snow and pandemic to mention a few.

The proposal is not to establish an organisation that will dictate to our communities, quite the opposite, it is to create an organisation with the scale to influence government on behalf of our communities, establish those things that are consistent and complimentary across the geography and delivery them effectively and efficiently at scale, whilst providing the capacity and support for communities to develop their vision and aspirations for their place.

Timescale is an issue however and we believe we will be required to submit our proposal to Government in the first week of September, as such your meeting may well be after the submission date.  Ideally I would like the support of the Chamber for our proposal as we submit it but I recognise that is a lot to ask when there may well be alternate approaches to consider.  I believe our proposal is the most cost effective solution to introduce as it only requires the expansion of one organisation, whereas any other proposal would require the creation of two new organisations which would be a massive piece of work at significant cost.

I would therefore ask if you were able to support the principle of a large unitary approach regardless of exact geography, provided the unitary addressed clearly local issues in a locally focussed way.  That would help ensure that Government continues with the Devolution approach, cascading powers and funding to the area.  After the proposals are submitted Government will consult the public on the options they are prepared to support.  Without your support there is a danger the Devolution agenda is parked yet again for this area and we end up at the back of the line, awaiting our fair share and finding it increasingly difficult to compete with the rest of the country.

If you would like to see the PDF of NYCC's Plan please email ceo@harrogatechamber.co.uk

I look forward to speaking with you in September, but if you wished to speak with me prior to then please feel free to call.

Best wishes,

Richard

Richard Flinton at Richard Flinton, Chief Executive’s Office, 3 Racecourse Lane, Northallerton, DL7 8QZ  richard.flinton@northyorks.gov.uk