POLITICAL leaders in North Yorkshire were yesterday urged to bang their heads together and come up with some “Yorkshire pragmatism” to ensure the county doesn’t miss out on the benefits of devolution.

Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen strode onto Croft bridge – the boundary between his patch and North Yorkshire – and told them: “Step back from the minutiae and look at the bigger picture. North Yorkshire could get hundreds of millions, even billions, of pounds and new powers. That is a big prize and could make a real difference to people’s lives in the county.”

The Government is preparing a new round of devolution deals this autumn. These deals will allow areas to get an elected metro mayor, like Mr Houchen, who will have greater powers and greater funds. But to get a deal, an area has to have a unitary authority, and North Yorkshire is currently run by a county council and seven districts.

Mr Houchen yesterday met county leader Carl Les, who advocates scrapping the districts and creating a single North Yorkshire council, covering 600,000 people. It would then combine with York city council, which covers about 200,000, to get a directly elected mayor.

However, the seven districts yesterday launched an alternative. They say a “mega-council” is too big, and so they would create two new authorities. Ryedale, Scarborough, Selby and York in the east would serve 450,000 people, and Craven, Hambleton, Harrogate and Richmondshire in the west would cover 350,000. The two would combine to elect a mayor.

“Overall, the model delivers two authorities large enough to be efficient into the future, but small enough to keep connected with our communities,” said Cllr Keane Duncan, leader of Ryedale.

However, Cllr Les said: “This double proposal involves splitting up the county services that already exist and the cost that would go with it, and amalgamating the services of York, and York doesn’t want to do that.”

Instead, he spoke of “double devolution”: beefing up the county’s six constituency committees, which each have a dozen local councillors, and helping ambitious parish and town councils do more.

Cllr Mark Robson, leader of Hambleton district, said: “For me, the timing is all wrong. Covid isn’t over yet. Let’s get the economy back up and running without trying to alter something that currently works.”

However, the Government sees reorganisation as a way to re-energise the economy post-pandemic, and Cllr Les said: “Ben Houchen is a great example of how devolution is working well. The longer we delay, the longer we will be missing out on that.”

Mr Houchen said: “With the deadline looming, North Yorkshire is at real risk of missing out many, many millions of pounds and powers staying in London which means civil servants in Whitehall making decisions on behalf of the people. That would be a great shame for the great people and the great county of North Yorkshire.”