Challenges and opportunities for the York and North Yorkshire mayor

After years in the making, we finally know who the first York and North Yorkshire mayor is.  

David Skaith will deliver for an area five times the size of Greater London, albeit with a far smaller budget. We know that combined authorities deliver for city regions, but what does this mean for the first rural authority? 

 The campaign trail displayed one of the main benefits of devolution: creative policy making.  

The candidates took this in their stride, making pledges on a raft of issues from dualling the A64 to high street support to free chickens. Let’s just say some policies were designed to capture the voter’s imagination more than others.  

Looking across to West Yorkshire with the Mayor’s Fares, or up to Tees Valley with the purchase of Teesside International Airport, the Combined Authority model strikes the balance between localised planning and regional investment. It has room for innovation that underfunded and overworked local authorities often cannot afford.  

The answer to the region’s great challenges, on housing, connectivity and the environment is closer with a unified mayor working for the region and the impact this can have on the poorest in society is undeniable. 

The geography of the mayoralty brings its own challenge. Mr Skaith will be one of thirteen directly elected mayors in the country and they cannot ignore the imperative to establish trust across the largest patch covered by any mayor in Britain.  

With a geography stretching from Skipton to Scarborough, the mayor will also address the region’s rurality through its economic policy and rural crime focus as Police and Crime Commissioner. 

 For us as the Chamber of Commerce, there is no doubt that May will be focused on engaging with the mayor and laying the foundations for a positive working relationship. 

Our Devolution Alliance paper, launched late last month, sets out our priorities from business leaders. The group were clear about praising what we do well, while still demanding more innovation and leadership. As one would expect, inward investment opportunities, improved connectivity and a fairer deal for our hospitality sector, figured highly on our priority list.  

There will be those who point out that £18 million per year is not a lot of money. Yes, there will be separate housing and transport pots, but when you promise a new road here and a swanky building there, the bank quickly dries up. We will expect to see dedications to both large infrastructure projects, and specific issues close to the new mayor’s heart. Groups like the Chamber will advocate for those they represent to have a seat at the table and scrutinise the direction that the mayor wants to take policy. 

If the region is going to move away from being the nation’s beautiful weekend trip and be recognised as a serious economic force, the incoming mayor must lead from the front, with businesses and residents engaged alongside them.  

As our president, Sarah Czarnecki, put it: “As York and North Yorkshire enters an exciting new chapter in its long and proud history and becomes a devolved region, the voice of the business community will be instrumental in shaping its successes.” 

The intricacies of local politics can be complex, but combined authorities have brought a breath of fresh air. With warmth, determination and a bit of northern grit, our new mayor David Skaith can harness that and make York and North Yorkshire the global success story it can be. 

Charlie Lavemai-Goldsbrough is the Policy and Representation Executive for York & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce   

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