Harrogate Lib Dems call for public vote over 'risky' devo deal for North Yorkshire

Harrogate and Knaresborough Lib Dems are backing North Yorkshire’s opposition leader in calling for a public vote on the £540million devolution deal that could see the region run by a powerful new mayor from 2024.

Speaking after this week’s Government announcement that there is to be an elected mayor for North Yorkshire and York as part of a new £540m devolution deal, Liberal Democrat Bryn Griffiths - leader of the official opposition Liberal Democrats and Liberal Group on North Yorkshire Council - said it was a "high risk strategy which put too much power in too few hands.

Coun Griffiths said: “The potential investment is significant but I have serious reservations about this deal. It’s being framed as devolution - but it’s quite the opposite in reality.

Harrogate Borough Council Lib Dem leader Pat Marsh said: “The residents of North Yorkshire and York should be given all the facts and allowed to make their own decision.”

“Firstly we’ve moved from smaller district and borough councils to one enormous unitary authority, and now we’re set to get a mayor ruling over all of us and the City Of York, with more power and less local accountability and scrutiny than any of our councillors or MPs.

Coun Griffiths continued:

“The mayor will have the authority to impose an additional council tax precept on households and to raise business rates.

“He or she will be able to make decisions on major investments without overview and scrutiny by elected councillors.

"This is a potentially high-risk strategy that could lead to high-profile investments in cherry picked locations, without serving local needs across the county.”

Echoing the views of Coun Griffiths, Lib Dem Leader on Harrogate Borough Council, Coun Pat Marsh said: “The residents of North Yorkshire and York should be given all the facts and allowed to make their own decision.”

"A devolution deal was announced this week that will see a mayoral combined authority being established over the City of York and North Yorkshire in May 2024."

Coun Marsh continued: “I have serious reservations about this deal. It’s being framed as devolution - but it is just not. Harrogate and Knaresborough residents lose out.

"We are not even guaranteed any investment towards the renovation of Harrogate Convention Centre as part of the deal.

"I do not see how anyone can think the concentration of power into the hands of one person is devolution – the Government have created North Yorkshire Unitary Authority, that is not even up and running yet and they are already pushing for a Mayor.

Coun Marsh concluded: “We’ve moved from smaller district and borough councils to one enormous unitary authority, and now we’re set to get a mayor ruling over all of us and the City Of York, with more power and less local accountability and scrutiny than any of our councillors or MPs.

“The mayor will have the authority to impose an additional council tax precept on households and to raise business rates. "

Earlier this week the leader of Harrogate Borough Council revealed he had refused to sign off on the devolution deal because of his concerns over the future of the town's convention centre and vital conference trade.

Coun Richard Cooper said: "I am pleased that the devolution deal for York and North Yorkshire is going ahead.

""That is because I support the principle of decisions being made closer to the people affected by them.

"It is better that we decide locally where a significant amount of cash is spent than ministers and civil servants in Whitehall.

"But the draft devolution deal falls short of what many of us expected in that it does not deliver guaranteed funding for the convention centre redevelopment.

"The convention centre attracts more than 150,000 visitors a year, has an economic impact of £35million and supports thousands of jobs across the region.

"When I was asked to sign a letter in support of this devolution deal I said that I would not do so."

But North Yorkshire County Council’s Tory leader, Coun Carl Les, said devolution was a “huge opportunity” which would make a real difference to people’s lives across North Yorkshire.

“The chance to secure a host of decision-making powers as well as bringing in millions of pounds of investment for North Yorkshire is a huge opportunity to shape the future of the county for many years to come," said Coun Les.

And Coun Les added: “The chance to secure a host of decision-making powers as well as bringing in millions of pounds of investment for North Yorkshire is a huge opportunity to shape the future of the county for many years to come.

"An elected mayor representing both York and North Yorkshire would be a powerful figure to have a seat at the table for further negotiations with the government, bringing real and tangible benefits to the region.”

Beckie Hart, CBI Regional Director, also welcomed the devolution deal for North Yorkshire and York, saying: “The CBI has long believed that local leaders – supported by the private sector and wider stakeholders – are best placed to recognise and act upon an area’s strengths and development needs.

“Strong engagement with business, forged by deep long-term partnerships can help power places to create new jobs for local communities. This will carve out exciting opportunities for young people and drive long term economic growth.

“We, therefore, welcome plans to create a mayoral combined authority for York and North Yorkshire and are ready to work with leaders to make this deal a success and help the area realise its economic potential. "

Supporters of the devolution plans for North Yorkshire and York cite a number of positive benefits for the county's economy and services.

1. A new elected mayor of North Yorkshire and York who would receive £540 million pounds of government cash to invest in skills, housing and transport in the region over 30 years to drive growth and take forward local priorities over the longer term.

2. The new mayor would also take over the role of North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner and have an annual £18m budget to spend.

3. There would be new powers to improve and better integrate local transport, including the ability to introduce bus franchising, and an integrated transport settlement starting in 2024/25.

4. £7 million-worth of investment to enable York and North Yorkshire to drive green economic growth towards their ambitions to be a carbon negative region.

5. More than £13 million for the building of new homes on brownfield land across 2023/24 and 2024/25, subject to sufficient eligible projects for funding being identified.

The devo deal was signed on Monday by the Government's Levelling Up Secretary Greg Clark, Lib Dem Coun Keith Asdpen, leader of City of York Council and Coun Carl Les, leader of North Yorkshire County Council, in the grand hall of the National Railway Museum.

Coun Keith Asdpen, also welcomed the deal with minor reservations, saying: "“ think it’s a good deal that ultimately brings money and new powers to residents and businesses in York and North Yorkshire.

"But it’s absolutely right that we take the opportunity over summer – now that the details of the deal have been published – so that residents and businesses can look really closely and have a conversation with us about whether it is the right deal for York.”

As part of the creation of a new unitary authority for all of North Yorkshire and an elected mayor for North Yorkshire and York, district councils, including Harrogate Borough Council, will be abolished next year.

But Tory minister Greg Clark believes devo will boost local democracy, saying: “I am absolutely convinced – this comes from growing up on Teesside – that actually decisions are better made locally than in London.

“The history of these deals is that the initial deal that is signed is just a first of what should be a transfer of power from London to the area that goes on and becomes more and more ambitious.”