North Yorkshire County Council is launching a task force to ensure that business needs are at the centre of decision making as the region recovers from the pandemic.
Chief executive Richard Flinton tabled the plan at a briefing for business leaders on NYCC’s proposals to create a new unitary council for North Yorkshire.
He said the group would work with the council to help remove barriers to growth, evolve and retrain the workforce and create dynamic action plans for market towns and the rural economy.
Mr Flinton added the task force would provide a “sounding board” for NYCC during the reorganisation of local government and the subsequent devolution of spending powers from central government to North Yorkshire.
He told the briefing: “The views of business are crucial in this. We have to get these changes right for business.”
The virtual event was attended by some of North Yorkshire’s most successful companies as well as national and international businesses with investments in the county.
Mr Flinton said NYCC’s proposals to central government, which will be submitted next week, are the “most deliverable and least disruptive” option for the county.
A single unitary council would also be the most “stable and business friendly” with a single policy approach and the ability to speak up for North Yorkshire, he added.
Mr Flinton said: “We have got to make sure that we stand alongside the cities that surround us and be that coastal and rural powerhouse that can be strong on all of the issues that are important to us.”
In addition, a single unitary council would prevent the breaking up of the county and preserve the North Yorkshire brand, a vital asset for the tourism and food and drink sectors, he added.
Most importantly, it would safeguard the continued delivery of essential public services to the most vulnerable people in the county, Mr Flinton said.
Mr Flinton told the briefing that NYCC and the City of York have a “really strong partnership” which offers the county the “quickest route to devolution”.
The City of York has rejected alternative proposals which would see its council merged with surrounding rural and coastal areas.
Mr Flinton said the NYCC and York approach would unlock new funding by 2022 for transport infrastructure, digital connectivity, housing, skills, business innovation, energy efficiency and revitalising the market towns and the city.
Mr Flinton said: “There are three strong drivers to make the change to local government. One is delivering a strong devolution deal for North Yorkshire and York. Second, we must have the most effective unit of local government we possibly can. Third, we have got an obligation, more so than ever in these times, to make all the savings we can to protect the council taxpayer and frontline services.”
NYCC estimates its proposals will save at least £30m a year by cutting waste and unnecessary costs. Over five years, it forecasts total savings could be as much as £250m.
Mr Flinton said: “We believe a single unitary council will be the most stable, sustainable and financially strong unit and it would be able to work on behalf of business.
“We want this council to work alongside business and to be very business friendly with a single policy approach to the issues that are important to you.”
NYCC has a strong track record of commercial partnerships and operates a number of successful trading companies with all profits reinvested back into public services.
Speaking after the briefing, Andrew Digwood, President of York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “The York and North Yorkshire Chamber remains very supportive of the proposals for local government reorganisation put forward by North Yorkshire County Council in partnership with City of York Council which we feel represent the best way to achieve efficiencies with a minimum disruption to essential services to businesses and residents across the region, as well as to deliver appropriate localised solutions at scale across the region and to play to the strengths of the well-regarded existing identities of the county of North Yorkshire and the City of York.
“We hope that it will be the model upon which a framework then be built to proceed quickly towards realising the potential gains for the region of a combined authority and regional devolution at the earliest possible opportunity ”