Cllr Carl Les is the Leader of North Yorkshire County Council

2021 will be a landmark year for North Yorkshire and York. A once in a lifetime opportunity to pave the way for real and lasting change that will allow us to punch our weight regionally and nationally as a rural powerhouse.

On July 21st, Robert Jenrick, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary, responded to the Government’s consultation on how local government should look from April 2023 for North Yorkshire. The Government backed the new single unitary model for the county – preserving the current unitary City of York as a separate entity which would work closely with a new council across the border providing all services on North Yorkshire County Council’s current footprint. The decision will go before parliament early next year.

The programme to create a single new council from the eight currently operating will be huge – but the aim is to align that programme with long-awaited devolution to kick-start sustainable economic recovery.

Change is never universally comfortable, but done right, it can deliver great benefits for all. Those rewards remain our focus as we prepare for the biggest change to local government since 1974. This is an enormous task and to overcome these challenges we aim to maintain strong and effective partnerships and to harness the expertise and knowledge that exists across all eight current NY councils. Through close collaboration and hard work, we will deliver not just a good, but an exemplar, council capable of providing more resilient public services. One that is able to deliver a joined-up approach on the big-ticket items like planning and economic development, transport, pathways to employment, connectivity and health.

But how can a larger organisation deliver at scale and remain local? It’s a fair challenge and one we have been very clear on. The current county council has a very strong track record in delivering countywide services at the most local of levels. In practical terms our staff live and work across communities, including many of our most rural places, delivering adult care and helping people live healthier, longer and more independent lives. Our children’s services educate, support and strengthen families – protecting our most vulnerable – and they are nationally recognised as outstanding. Our highways crews look after your street. However, we must not forget that our excellent district colleagues have a wealth of local knowledge and expertise that will add huge value to all service delivery. Far from an acquisition, this new unitary council will be built on teamwork and collaboration. Staff across these organisations are right to take pride in what they have achieved – and remain passionate about innovation and improving lives.

The new council will be extremely visible with an office in each former district, supported by at least 30 face to face customer access points. Staff will continue to be based throughout communities – more than 80 per cent of our staff live in the county, and that’s important in helping us to understand what matters at the grassroots. Local delivery is carried out by local staff working to locally based managers. Alongside this presence, the new council will establish 25 community networks. Based mainly around market town areas they will bring together business and community representatives, local elected members, town and parish councils, council officers and broader health and blue light partners.

Six area committees, based on MP’s constituencies, will oversee local decision-making; they will be real local powerhouses.

For those town and parish councils which would welcome it, there will be the opportunity for more management of certain local services and assets and the proper resources to deliver them. Done with them and never to them, no dumping of responsibilities on them. Already more than 50 town and parish councils have expressed an interest to work with us to get this right. Across all the councils involved in working together to deliver a stronger local government for North Yorkshire there is a clear commitment to localism.

This joined-up approach will mean that the new organisation has not just a focus on what matters locally, but the substance and scale to step back and see the bigger picture. To protect and strengthen local plans and projects that will deliver on local needs and to align them with strategic investment and infrastructure opportunities. To establish a joined-up programme of arts and culture that will showcase the county as a vibrant place to live, work, visit, and invest in. Supporting a better-connected county on every level.

Our strong leadership during the pandemic has made good partnerships great. It has necessitated significant and sustained joint decision-making and wide multi-agency working. The impacts of Covid-19 are broad but there is also learning of significant value.

Maximising the use of the latest technologies and reducing travel presents many opportunities around the low carbon agenda – as do the possibilities around renewable energies. There are also the huge benefits of reconnecting our communities with a workforce able to balance effective productivity with a good quality of life – and surrounded by countryside that’s good for the heart and mind.

There is a huge social and economic value in the globally recognised brand of North Yorkshire and we know from listening to people and businesses that there is much more that can be done to utilise this to drive green and lasting economic growth.

We can deliver all this by continuing to listen to our businesses, organisations, partners, and people; by building on these established relationships and using the incredible resilience this county is famous for.