North Yorkshire leaders finally set to start devolution talks with government amid fears Ministers have gone cool on project
North Yorkshire leaders expect to start negotiations in the next months over a long-awaited devolution deal which could see powers and funding handed to a metro mayor for the county, The Yorkshire Post has learned.
The Government has indicated that it is willing to start talks around the 'asks' submitted late last year, which include a £2.4bn funding package which would help it to become England's first carbon negative economy.
Some politicians in North Yorkshire feared that Ministers had gone cool on the devolution agenda as the promised White Paper on the subject has been delayed by several months.
But North Yorkshire County Council leader Carl Les said the main hold-up was local authorities failing to agree rather than a lack of enthusiasm from Ministers.
One district council, Hambleton, refused to approve the key document being submitted to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, meaning the other leaders had to submit it without unanimous approval.
Coun Les told The Yorkshire Post: "The process of the asks is a long process. I don't think the Government has gone cool on it, they have actually agreed terms now with South Yorkshire and more recently with West Yorkshire. it's the fact that it's taken us a long time to actually get to the position of submitting the asks, the week before Christmas.
"And now we're waiting to start the negotiations, but those negotiations will last a period of months. It was important to have gotten them submitted at the earliest possible opportunity, sometime in the last calendar year.
"Up until December we were still trying to agree a consensus opinion. And then when it became obvious that we would never get Hambleton to agree to a consensus opinion, then there was a majority decision to actually submit."
A 140-page document submitted to Ministers by political leaders in North Yorkshire sets out their demands in return for the election of a metro mayor and the likely replacement of its district councils with one or more unitary authorities.
As well as a 30-year gainshare funding pot worth £750m over 25 years, the submission contains proposals for government funding to be handed over to the county in areas including housing, transport, skills, regeneration and energy.
These include £50m over five years to roll out a programme of electric vehicle charging facilities around the county as part of efforts to cut carbon emissions.
Leaders were originally told that a reorganisation of local government in North Yorkshire could be a condition of devolution.
And later this month a consultation will be launched on whether a single authority for all of North Yorkshire or two bodies split on an east/west basis will replace the current two-tier system of councils.
A two-month consultation to help Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick make the decision will start this month, local leaders have been told, when officials are also expected to announce if May's county council elections will go-ahead as planned.
But The Yorkshire Post understands that the main focus of the consultation will be gathering the view of local 'stakeholders' such as the NHS, police, fire services and business as well as neighbouring councils.
Members of the public are allowed to respond but their views are not expected to be 'front and centre' in the decision made about the best model for local councils.
The main factor is likely to be which outcome Whitehall officials consider to be most likely to improve local government services and which represents the most "credible geography".
Hambleton council leader, Conservative Mark Robson, said he refused to approve the asks being submitted because the Government had yet to publish its White Paper setting out its vision for devolution.
He said: "We need to understand how it will benefit the residents of Hambleton and we are still yet to see that.
"We were told all along that devolution would be tied in with local government reform. Will devolution happen, I'm not sure currently that it will. I will not dive into something without getting an understanding of what we are doing.
"I stand by what I have said all along. If Carl Les says he feels disappointed and frustrated that doesn't come close to how I feel about it."