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Many residents 'unaware' of upcoming North Yorkshire mayoral election

Sunday, 24 March 2024 18:10

By Stuart Minting, Local Democracy Reporter

With just five weeks to go until York and North Yorkshire’s first elected mayor is installed, the top officer of the region’s incoming combined authority says he believes most residents remain unaware of the election or the role of the mayor.

In a wide-ranging interview, York and North Yorkshire Combined Authority’s interim head of paid services James Farrar has revealed:

  • There is a “real risk of a low turnout” at the ballot box due to national politics and people being unaware of how the mayoral combined authority will aim to improve lives.
  • None of the cost of the combined authority would come directly from taxpayers, but rather from the £18m annual Mayoral Investment Fund given by the government and from funding for specific programmes.
  • Following concerns the combined authority would focus efforts on its largest urban area, York, it has been agreed to monitor and publish where all funds are distributed.

Mr Farrar said while some people perceived a mayor to be “robes and regalia”, in the first four-year term, the combined authority’s elected mayor’s main responsibilities would be growing the economy and taking on the governance of the police and fire services.

He was quick to dismiss criticisms from opposition politicians the combined authority would lack accountability as four of the five members of its decision-making executive were appointed by York and North Yorkshire councils.

Pointing toward the combined authority’s directly elected leader in the mayor, he said residents and business owners needed to get their voice heard at the ballot box as the mayor would be responsible for the combined authority, which would oversee investment of more than £600m into the region.

Mr Farrar said: “There is a fundamental issue we have got to address in raising awareness of what the mayor will be responsible for.

“”People aren’t engaged in local politics, so the vast majority won’t be aware this is coming and there’s also a pretty negative view of national politics at the moment.

“The combined authority has been legally created now, but what’s really important is on 2nd May people are motivated to vote for whichever mayor they want.”

When asked how the combined authority would balance its responsibilities between the contrasting areas of York and North Yorkshire, Mr Farrar said the two areas were already interdependent.

He pointed towards how money was being pumped into a new railway station at Haxby, north of York, it had helped strengthen the case for half-hourly trains to Scarborough.

He added: “The combined authority should be making investment decisions based on what’s best for the whole region.

“All areas will benefit, but it won’t just be a carve up of the money between the two councils, looking at connections such as how Craven and Harrogate connect into West Yorkshire and Hambleton and Richmondshire link to Teesside.

“The purpose of the mayor is to be able to take that strategic overview across these geographies and make decisions on how people, product and business work, rather than be constrained by local authority boundaries.”

Mr Farrar said he believes the councils, which currently have Conservative and Labour leaderships, would be able to work together for the common good, and had already agreed a shared set of economic priorities for the combined authority.

He said set the mayoral combined authority would set the strategic vision and ambitions for York and North Yorkshire, secure investment to deliver the vision and to make investments to improve people’s lives, enable business growth and create jobs.

Mr Farrar added the councils would have an important role in delivering the objectives of the combined authority, which would go out and secure the investment.

Responding to concerns that pressing social issues such as housing and access to public transport, Mr Farrar said such issues would be picked up as part of the authority’s focus on improving places to attract investment.

He said affordable housing was “writ large in our economic framework”, adding: “You can’t deliver a successful York and North Yorkshire if people can’t afford to live there.

“We know public transport is a challenge, we don’t quite know what the answer is to that problem. The mayor will bring the ability to invest, to find out the solution and put it in place.

“We are not thinking the mayor will swan in and answer difficult issues immediately. I think there needs to be a strategic review across the piece.”

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