Our preparations for developing a new model of local government for North Yorkshire continues at pace. As part of this, conversations are ongoing with partners and communities to help us get the model right and ensure that local communities are at the heart of local decision-making.
Our proposal is for a single council for the county to replace the current two tier arrangements of county council and seven district councils. A new council that builds on North Yorkshire’s strong culture of volunteering and community action.
Many partners in the voluntary and community sector joined me last month for a webinar and constructive Q&A session. I’d like to thank everyone who has contributed to the discussions so far. If anyone missed it, you can access the slides here.
Our research tells that people strongly identify with North Yorkshire and that the county is known for the strength and pride of its communities, all helping to make North Yorkshire such an amazing place.
Our recent North Yorkshire Views survey also told us that residents want decisions taken – and services provided – as locally as possible. Most saying that they welcome further opportunities to influence and co-produce local services.
These conversations are extremely important to us, ensuring that proposals for a new council reflect the ambitions of our communities.
Unitary local government is a requirement of the government’s ‘devolution’ agenda. To secure a deal for North Yorkshire and York we have to put forward ideas for alternatives to the two-tier structure.
We want to see ‘double devolution’: the development of a framework offering town and parish councils and communities, where they want it, flexible opportunities to run services and manage assets currently administered by the county and district councils, tailored to local ambition and priorities. We also propose establishing 25 community networks – each serving a market town and surrounding villages – that bring together local town and parish councils, communities and services to identify, agree and drive forward local priorities for their area. Priorities that build on the issues that affect them and delivers services that both utilise local assets and reflect what matters to the people living in those communities.
Community networks would build upon the success of the community-led response to the Covid-19 pandemic that saw us mobilise and fund community support organisations to deliver local volunteer support and financial help to vulnerable people, quickly and effectively targeted to where it is needed most.
This is not entirely new for us. When we first considered how to deal with austerity, one of our key responses, rather than cut our support to the VCSE sector, was instead to invest in it, to unleash the power of local.
Since 2014, we have invested around £1m pa through our Stronger Communities programme working with hundreds of communities establishing strong networks in localities across the county that help to reduce inequalities, increase social connections and improve well-being. We have protected grants and contracts at a time when the council’s budget has significantly reduced.
This will be the underlying ethos of a new council for North Yorkshire, which will have at its heart the need to be local and harness what the voluntary and community sector can do.
North Yorkshire County Council