YORK Council and councils across North Yorkshire have been told by the government to rapidly prepare plans to form one or more unitary authority, led by an elected mayor.

At a virtual meeting with the nine councils which are working towards devolution last week, local government minister Simon Clark said streamlined local authority structures were now an immediate requirement for devolution.

In a surprise move, the minister told council leaders that despite the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a willingness and capacity in government to move the changes on at pace and called on the local authorities to submit unitary authority plans by September.

The government has stated any change to geography could involve the City of York Council, but it is understood some leaders on the unitary authority want it to remain as it is.

Such plans have previously been rejected by one or more of the area’s councils, which have remained the same since 1974.

Local authorities in the area are supportive of devolution as they believe it will bring more funding and powers to the area.

Mr Clarke, who has also been given responsibility for parts of the recovery from the pandemic, said the government sees devolution as a key part of the recovery process for the area, while the prime minister views devolution as vital for levelling up the North-South divide.

The government wants the new authority structure and elections to take place by April 2022, and while councils will be arriving at individual conclusions, the government has warned it would impose a solution if no consensus is reached.

North Yorkshire County Council’s leader, Councillor Carl Les, said he wanted a solution to protect the outcomes for key services and to benefit council taxpayers while retaining local decision-making and engagement with communities.

Councillor Mark Robson, leader of Hambleton District Council, described the timescale for the changes set by the government as “very tight”.

Mr Robson and councillor Angie Dale, leader of Richmondshire District Council, said they were determined to ensure the best interests of their residents and businesses were served.