I am thrilled to be taking over as president of the York & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce and representing this region’s business community as we look towards economic recovery. Covid has impacted our region in ways which would have been unimaginable when my predecessor Andrew Digwood took over the presidency in 2019 and I want to say what a remarkable job he has done in challenging times to ensure the business voice has been heard by regional and national policy makers.
Looking forward I am confident we can build our way out of the pandemic, and with the vaccine roll out helping to increasing confidence, businesses can start to plan with more certainty.
I am also looking forward to working with regional stakeholders to secure devolution for North Yorkshire. This matters hugely as it will provide greater control over our destiny providing the tools to unleash our entrepreneurial spirit.
May saw the election of West Yorkshire’s first ever metro mayor and as Tracy Brabin begins a new phase in her political career my Leeds and Bradford colleagues look forward to working with her to ensure business views are shared and that devolution of new powers and funding make a real difference to the region’s economy. As president of the Chamber I will campaign for similar powers for our region, and with proposals being developed I am hopeful that we too will follow our colleagues in West Yorkshire and claim our seat at the table of devolved English regions. However, in order to get to this we are required to reorganise local government and do away with the current two tier county and district authority model which currently exists.
The inner workings of local authorities will likely not be a high priority for businesses, particularly given the hardships of the last 15 months, but successful reorganisation genuinely opens the gates to the much bigger prize of regional devolution and with it increased powers and funding from Whitehall. The ability to make regional decisions over the future of our economy, deliver 21st century infrastructure and drive inward investment, skills and innovation cannot be understated. This is a once in a generation opportunity which we must grab.
The Government sought views on the future of North Yorkshire, with businesses and residents being asked to respond to two proposals presented. One proposal would see the abolition of the seven district authorities and the county council, to be replaced by a single unitary authority, whilst the second would also see the abolition of North Yorkshire County Council and its district authorities along with the City of York Council to be replaced by two completely new authorities split east and west, roughly along the route of the A1.
Having studied both proposals I believe that the first of these two options would be best for the region. Our decision was based on a number of factors not the least of which is a smoother and less disruptive transition to this new structure compared to the breaking up and reordering of seven districts, one county council and the abolition of City of York Council.
A unitary North Yorkshire Council will bring economies of scale and streamline those services which are of greatest importance to our business community as we look to emerge from the Covid pandemic. A county wide economic strategy with a single local plan setting out future development opportunities, employment land allocations and housing numbers would bring confidence that in turn would drive private sector investment.
The elimination of duplication of processes and services and the provision of a ‘single front door’ for businesses to access support would bring clarity and consistency across the county. The ability to deliver improved rural mobile connectivity under our own leadership could happen without resorting to Whitehall departments to decide whether our communities deserve what urban areas take for granted. Ambitions to be the UK’s first carbon-negative circular economy, as agreed by our regional civic and business leaders will be in our gift to deliver. In turn this will create new jobs, new industries and opportunities to lead the country to a more sustainable future.
We also recognise the benefit in the city of York retaining its own independence. As the region’s largest urban and economic centre, it accounts for one-third of the region’s GVA, York has its own distinct challenges and opportunities and needs to be able to take a position within any future devolved authority structure which addresses those to best effect
This month, Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government is expected to make the decision on the future of local government in our region and we would urge him to back the Chamber’s position and pave the way for devolution.