I gave up on coming up with an attention grabbing first sentence for this blog. After 30 minutes I had to accept there just wasn’t anything I could write that would make Local Government reorganisation in Cumbria and North Yorkshire sound exciting.
Though just because the subject matter sounds dull doesn’t mean you can afford to ignore it.
Whilst other reorganisations are often trailed as being about ‘driving efficiencies’, ‘reducing duplication’ or replacing a failed Local Authority (such as the infamous Northamptonshire), the proposed changes in Yorkshire and a mostly-rural portion of the North-West present much more of an opportunity.
Ever since Mayoral Combined Authorities in Metropolitan areas began to leave non-Metropolitan Counties in their wake when it came to attracting investment, the search has been on to find a way for rural and small-town England to benefit from devolution. Fragmented Local Governance, in the form of two-tier authorities, and an absence of a Mayoral-type figurehead have meant that it’s not always clear who you need to speak to if you want to take your business to the likes of Cockermouth, Knaresborough or Whitby. Indeed, how frequently did you ever hear a mention of Teeside prior to the election of Ben Houchen?
The abolition of County and District Councils in North Yorkshire and Cumbria and their replacement with Unitary Authorities could make this much simpler. Paving the way for more ‘Metro Mayors’, who could be high-profile advocates nationally and internationally for their counties, would provide the clear, single point of contact these areas currently lack.
The main political parties might look to these new authorities and muse about their fortunes on the new geographies, for which elections will be contested in May 2022 ahead of the Authorities coming into force on 1st April 2023. Whilst North Yorkshire will likely vote Conservative it’s harder to predict what the political landscape across Cumbria may look like when using the composition of the current authorities as a reference point. Of course, there is always the outside chance of the emergence of what political hacks refer to as a “charismatic independent” too.
But with the powers handed to existing Mayoral Combined Authorities including spatial planning, regional transport, the provision of skills training, business support services, and economic development, whatever colour rosette the Leaders of the new Councils or the Metro Mayors wear these changes could revolutionise the way these Counties operate. Indeed, it could place Cumbria and North Yorkshire on a level playing field with Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and the Liverpool City Region.
And so, though I couldn’t find an exciting opener to this piece, there arguably are exciting times ahead for Cumbria and North Yorkshire. If the Counties can take full advantage of what this seemingly technical exercise of Local Government reorganisation puts on the table, then the kind of growth, inward investment and profile that Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool have benefitted from could be coming to Carlisle, Harrogate and Selby.
BECG is an award-winning sector specialist communications consultancy for the built environment. For more information on the opportunities that devolution and new Mayoral Combined Authorities could offer contact Sean Fielding.