Interview: Harrogate man with sights on being first Mayor of York and North Yorkshire will 'work for collective good'

The Harrogate man bidding to be elected the powerful new Mayor of York and North Yorkshire says he will use his experience in business to launch a High Street Fund to revive the retail sector if elected.
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As well as being the Labour Party’s candidate for this May’s mayoral election, David Skaith is also Chair of York High Street Forum.

Talking to the Harrogate Advertiser, Mr Skaith said, as the owner of an independent shop in the city, he understood the importance of supporting business and bringing economic growth and investment to the region.

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The Mayor’s High Street Fund, he says, would provide access to funding and support for plans right across York and North Yorkshire’s villages, towns and cities in partnership with the private sector.

As well as being the Labour Party’s candidate for this May’s mayoral election in York and North Yorkshire, Harrogate man David Skaith is also Chair of York High Street Forum. (Picture contributed)As well as being the Labour Party’s candidate for this May’s mayoral election in York and North Yorkshire, Harrogate man David Skaith is also Chair of York High Street Forum. (Picture contributed)
As well as being the Labour Party’s candidate for this May’s mayoral election in York and North Yorkshire, Harrogate man David Skaith is also Chair of York High Street Forum. (Picture contributed)

"As a shop owner, I have seen the decline of our high streets,” he said.

"We need to make town centres a place where people want to come and spend time and money.

"It’s vitally important we support small businesses and ensure high streets are well presented, vibrant, attractive and safe.

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"This county is great at tourism and leisure but we can do even better.”

As a youngster, Mr Skaith went to Rossett School in Harrogate.

Now living in Wheldrake, a village seven miles outside York, his brother still lives in Harrogate where he serves as a policeman.

Mr Skaith gained experience of the hospitality sector early, working at the The Drum & Monkey restaurant in Harrogate during his A Levels, followed by a time as a bar manager at The Majestic Hotel.

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The 38-year-old family man first came to York to study at York St John University.

He sees the chance to become the first elected mayor of York and North Yorkshire in charge of the new Combined Authority with access to £18 million of funding per year to deliver schemes in transport, housing, business and net zero, as an opportunity to achieve real things on the ground away from the usual political cat fights.

"The mayor is a powerful role,” said Mr Skaith, who owns Winston's men’s clothing shop in York.

"The new system of devolution for the Combined Authority has been set up with a 30-year plan.

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"That means he or she can set the agenda and investment for the long term and focus on joined-up thinking.

"The mayor will have the power to create a collective voice for the good of all of York and North Yorkshire.

"But we need to work closely with the private sector to bring in investment and jobs."

The new regional combined authority with a directly elected executive mayor will be worth up to £750 million for the region in total, with powers to invest an extra £540 million in the region over 30 years for local priorities such as economic growth, transport and the fight against climate change.

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Mr Skaith may believe in the potential of the new role of mayor – and the greatness of the region he is seeking to represent.

Despite his selection as the Labour Party’s candidate, he says he isn’t from a particularly political background.

Still, he hasn’t failed to notice there are also a lot of problems in society waiting to be addressed, too.

"I’m not from heavily political background,” said Mr Skaith.

"I came into the Labour Party from the real world.

"We’ve had 14 years of neglect in this country.

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"I’ve seen local councils forced to make drastic cuts to services because of years of Government under-funding.

"These just aren’t sustainable.

"I’ve seen farmers hit by under-funding and the affects of flooding.

"My wife is a teacher, my brother is a policeman.

"I’ve seen the results for myself.

"I was getting increasingly fed up with the state of things.

"I lost my dad during Covid and I wasn’t even able to visit him in hospital.

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"I didn’t want to be someone who just whinges about things, someone who just sits on the sidelines and moans.

"I wanted to do something about it and the mayor’s role would be a fantastic opportunity to make a real difference.”

If he proves successful at the election on May 2, David Skaith has a burgeoning list of priorities from affordable housing to policing.

His list includes the following:

Policing – more officers and better outcomes

"As Mayor of York and North Yorkshire I want to see more police officers and police community support officers embedded in our communities.

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"If elected I would push for our share of the 13,000 more police and PCSOs that Labour have promised nationally so that everyone in York and North Yorkshire feels safe.

Housing – building truly affordable quality homes

"Everyone can see we are short of all forms of housing but not enough of new houses are actually affordable for people on the average salary.

"We need more housing for the elderly, too."

Transport – incorporating public transport, cycling and private vehicles

“North Yorkshire is a large and varied region, including vast rural areas, densely populated urban areas and struggling coastal towns.

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"The mayor’s budget would only go so far in terms of our bus services and railways.

"We need to work with other authorities and bodies in Yorkshire as a whole to bring better public transport."

As political candidates of all persuasions begin campaigning in earnest in the run-up to May 2, David Skaith says his feet are firmly on the ground.

"I’m not one for half-baked ideas,” he said.

"Being mayor would be about setting goals for the whole county to bring prosperity.

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“But I’m not going to use empty phrases like “levelling up” which have been shown to mean nothing."

York and North Yorkshire Mayor election: The candidates

The Conservative Party’s candidate is Keane Duncan, North Yorkshire Council’s Executive Member for Highways and Transportation.

The Labour Party’s candidate is York business leader David Skaith, who was born in Harrogate.

The Liberal Democrats have chosen Felicity Cunliffe-Lister, the owner of Swinton Park, Felicity Cunliffe-Lister.

The Green Party candidate is former soldier Kevin Foster.

The sole independent is Keith Tordoff, former police officer and small business owner, who is backed by Reform UK.