The UK’s first devolution agreement for a city and a rural region together should be seen as a stepping stone towards a larger goal of devolution for all of Yorkshire, a council leader said.
On Monday, leaders of York City Council and North Yorkshire County Council joined forces with the leveling secretary, Greg Clark, to sign a “historic” deal that will cause a radical shake-up for local government in the area.
It includes the election of a Mayor of York and North Yorkshire in May 2024 and is worth £540 million over 30 years, according to the government.
Keith Aspden, the Liberal Democrat leader of York City Council, praised the deal, pointing out that it was more money per capita than other devolution schemes.
It should also be seen as a step towards something bigger, he said, adding: “Some of us have long had aspirations for a Mayor of Yorkshire who would represent a population and have a scale that would have undeniable influence in Whitehall and at the government. ”
Instead, there is currently a mayor of South Yorkshire and a mayor of West Yorkshire, who is now joined by a mayor of North Yorkshire. Hull and East Yorkshire could be next.
“Some people definitely want to see those pieces as stepping stones to greater responsibility and representation at the Yorkshire level,” Aspden said. “Not everyone agrees, but I would certainly be in favor of continuing to work on that journey with colleagues in East, West and South Yorkshire.”
One of those who disagreed is the Foreign Secretary, who said Yorkshire was too large and diverse an area to work. But Clark said the York and North Yorkshire deal was an important deal that would increase prosperity and opportunities for the area.
Officials in London couldn’t know what was best for an area that was “utterly unique,” he said. “The richness and diversity within [the area] evades any attempt to understand it by people sitting in a London office. You need people from Yorkshire to drive and make decisions about the things that happen.”
The deal was signed on Yorkshire Day at the National Railway Museum in York. The perfect day, some said. Others pointed to the irony that Yorkshire Day was created in 1974 as a protest against the reorganization of local government.
Carl Les, the Conservative leader of the North Yorkshire County Council, said it was a good deal that should be seen as just the start of better things – “it’s getting your foot on the ladder.”
Les was more cautious about the idea of full devolution of Yorkshire, saying: “I understand the Government’s concern about creating an entity with devolved powers that is in fact the size of the Scottish economy and the size of Scotland’s population.”