Published — 21 September, 2020
View from Westminster
There is a lot of talk right now about how our councils are going to be organised in the future. And our Conservative-led district council and county council are working up separate proposals. Liberal Democrats (who run York City Council) have different views from how Harrogate’s seven opposition Liberal Democrat councillors see the future. So, despite what some pretend, it is not a matter that splits people on party lines. All parties have different opinions within them.
But why are councillors even talking about radically re-organising the way council services are run? It is because without making the change so that all our current services are run by a single council they are unable to unlock a devolution deal for York and North Yorkshire. And that devolution deal will mean significant powers, currently exercised by the government in Whitehall, will be given to a locally-elected mayor along with a budget of around £2.14bn.
And what a prize that could be for our area.
There are some regionally-significant big projects that feature in the initial proposals that look set to go to government. The main one for our district is investment in the redevelopment of the Convention Centre. That is because partner councils in York and North Yorkshire recognise that the Convention Centre has a much wider impact that just on Harrogate town but is important for the economy of the region.
There is the opportunity to access cash for a wide variety of smaller, more local issues – £311m for transport improvements, £165m for town centre improvements, £10m for skills development and much more. Headlining the entire proposal is a vision of a carbon-negative economy and thriving communities.
So what kind of powers could we see being exercised locally that are currently the preserve of national government?
In transport York and North Yorkshire would be responsible for the £250m integrated transport fund, for regional spending on ultra-low emission vehicle infrastructure, implementing extensions to the concessionary fare scheme and bus franchising powers.
There is a significant commitment to funding for affordable housing initiatives. In our district the average cost of a house is 14 times the average salary so this power and the funding that accompanies it will be important.
In terms of carbon reduction and that ambition for a carbon-negative economy a big ticket item is a five-year programme to retro-fit houses with low carbon technology. Since heating our homes, alongside transport, is the most major cause of greenhouse gas emissions this proposal should have a significant impact on reaching the negative-carbon ambition.
The proposals also recognise that the world is changing and that development and use of low-carbon technology will be a critical part of how the world addresses its future. So there are plans for a multi-million investment in giving vocational skills low-carbon technology particularly in the car and construction industries.
There are many other great things for Harrogate, Knaresborough, Boroughbridge and the rural areas related to agriculture, tourism and the natural environment.
A look across the Pennines at how the Greater Manchester devolution model has worked, or up north to North Tyneside, shows us that devolution is an opportunity to grasp.
On national policy issues as a Conservative MP who stood on a Conservative manifesto you would expect me to support the manifesto programme of a Conservative government.
Devolution is a manifesto pledge, but getting it done requires our local politicians to engage constructively on the issue and with bringing national money and powers to our region, thinking beyond political party rivalries. Billions being spent here by a locally-elected mayor and councillors; spending decisions made here that would otherwise have been made over two hundred miles away, with more local control ensuring decisions better meet local need. After years of talk, this is a moment of opportunity.
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