BUSINESS leaders have welcomed the launch of a combined authority as an opportunity for putting politics aside and focus on the region's development.

The first working day of the York and North Yorkshire Combined Authority on February 1, was marked with a launch event at York Guildhall.

The Combined Authority will be led by the first Mayor for York and North Yorkshire, following elections on May 2. The Mayor will work with City of York Council and North Yorkshire Council to deliver devolved funds and attract new investment. In May, the existing Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner role will also become the responsibility of the Mayor.

Carolyn Frank Federation of Small Business (FSB) Development Manager for York & North Yorkshire, said: "The launch of the combined authority brings a chance for more joined up thinking, and bold regional planning, putting politics aside to focus on problem solving across City, Moors, Dales and Coast, and a focus on what our ambitions are as York & North Yorkshire together. For local small businesses the change might not be immediately obvious – as services will continue to be delivered by familiar faces at the local authorities, but in the longer term devolution here can bring real change that helps our economy thrive through greater investment, and decisions bring taken in our region, for our region.

"The official launch event felt like an historic milestone has been reached and a big positive step forward is being taken, and the next step will be a Mayoral election. Getting the right Mayor will be key to this, FSB have found that in other areas true change has come when personality and politics is put aside in favour of listening, engagement and delivery. A business hustings event will be held on April 10th 6pm at York St John University so “save the date” and meet the candidates.

Clara Challoner Walker, founder of the Malton-based sustainable wellness brand, Cosy Cottage Soap, said: "The vast majority of the 46,000 businesses in York and North Yorkshire are small to medium sized rural businesses and the challenges that impact us differ from those faced nationally or in Westminster. Rural businesses like mine face challenges include significant local skills shortages, high house prices, coupled with low wages, leading to suppressed local spending power, poor digital connectivity, lack of transport connectivity and constrained social mobility.

"Devolution represents an unprecedented opportunity for rural businesses to engage with the new devolved authority to ensure our priorities are heard and the process of ‘levelling up’ becomes a reality for the region, its businesses and those we serve and employ. The new Combined Authority will be able to allocate funding to deliver against local rather than national priorities such as our ambition to become England's first carbon negative region and support sustainable enterprise."

North Yorkshire Council’s leader, Cllr Carl Les, said: “We have waited a long time to bring the benefits of devolution to hundreds of thousands of people in York and North Yorkshire.

“These benefits will make a real difference to people’s lives, whether that is creating more affordable housing, improving skills and training, creating better career opportunities and promoting the green sector to protect the environment.

“The launch of the Combined Authority is a major moment in realising what devolution actually means for the residents and businesses of North Yorkshire. It will allow us to have more decisions made locally and also the responsibility for hundreds of millions of pounds in extra funding from the Government.

“We now have a powerful organisation to achieve this, and as a council we are looking forward to working closely with colleagues at the Combined Authority and City of York Council, as well as the new mayor when they are elected in May.”