This evening, Cabinet will receive a report updating members on the current negotiations for devolution bids affecting the Harrogate district. Members will be asked to consider whether they wish to proceed with associate membership of the proposed Leeds City Region Combined Authority devolution deal. A decision to do this would not preclude any later decision by Harrogate to become a full member of either a Leeds City Region or York, North Yorkshire and East Riding combined authority deal.
The Leeds City Region deal would provide its associate members with a seat at the table for discussions concerning key projects which will impact on the economic development of the Harrogate district. The combined authority’s ability to raise tax would only affect full member authorities not associate ones. Officers believe that it is in the best interests of the district’s residents that there is the opportunity to have a say at no real cost on important issues for the Harrogate district.
Members will also be asked to consider whether they wished to pursue full membership of any proposed Leeds City Region Combined Authority. A further report will be brought in due course regarding the proposals related to the North Yorkshire combined authority devolution deal when further information became available.
In order to ensure that all council members views can be taken into consideration, the Leader has indicated that Cabinet will simply refer the decision to full Council on Wednesday 2 March and offer all members the opportunity to have a free vote on the matter.
The Leeds City Region and York, North Yorkshire and East Riding deals are similar in terms of their asks and are seeking:
- Transport power similar to Transport to London
- Funding settlements over a longer time frame
- Greater use of and control over surplus public assets
- Devolved responsibility for management of European Structural Funds
- Establishment of a Strategic Housing and Regeneration Fund
- Powers akin to those enjoyed by a Land Commission or Development Corporation
- Control over Further Education Capital Budgets
The Leeds City Region devolution negotiations are more advanced than the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding negotiations, and as a consequence a decision on associate membership of this combined authority has come forward first.
It is envisaged that any devolution deals will be announced by the government by the end of March 2016, becoming law by late autumn 2016.
Councillor Richard Cooper is Leader of Harrogate Borough Council. He said:
Through the media I became aware of a press release from North Yorkshire County Council stating that it has asked Harrogate Council to not take a decision on devolution.
There has been no direct approach from North Yorkshire County Council on this issue.
North Yorkshire’s statement that the vote concerns whether to join the Combined Authority of West Yorkshire Councils or to stay in the North Yorkshire, York and East Riding bid is difficult to understand. Being an associate member of the Leeds City Region, which is not just West Yorkshire authorities, but includes other North Yorkshire authorities, does not preclude Harrogate Borough Council from being a full member of any York, North Yorkshire and East Riding bid that comes forward. It is not about taking Harrogate out of the North Yorkshire geography nor indeed is it about moving powers or funding from North Yorkshire to West Yorkshire. It is about strengthening links to the region’s largest economic area.
Council Cooper said:
I have repeatedly asked when a York, North Yorkshire and East Riding proposal is likely to come forward and received no reply. As late as last Saturday I met the Leader of North Yorkshire County Council and still no date was given.
What I am giving Harrogate councillors is a choice over which combined authority it wishes to seek membership of to ensure we obtain the best devolution deal for the district. Over the short term, we therefore need to decide whether to proceed with associate membership of a proposed Leeds City Region Combined Authority in time for the legal framework to be completed.
This decision does not preclude any future decisions about full membership of either a Leeds City Region or York, North Yorkshire and East Ridding based combined authority.
This decision is more than party politics. I do not want people to feel that Cabinet is leading on such an important issue, and as such I would like members to have a free vote at full council, so that they can decide for themselves whether we should become members of the Leeds City Region.