An ARC News Service report. – At the Rural Summit at Tennants Auction Centre in Leyburn on November 19 Richard Flinton, chief executive of North Yorkshire County Council, explained how the budget cuts were leading to new partnerships and even thoughts of regional devolution in England. The importance of partnerships was further emphasised by two Richmondshire District Council officers – Jo-Anne Simpson, culture and wellbeing delivery manager, and Tony Clark, the managing director.
“We are massively underfunded compared to urban areas,” Richard Flinton told the Summit. He felt that the county council could make better use of money if more power was devolved to the regions.
If the Homes and Community Agency (HCA) wanted to give 10 per cent of its money to rural areas why not give that to the county or to the districts? “Let us use that 10 per cent – that would be devolution,” he said.
“We have a massive funding challenge – to take £168 million out of the budget. That is an enormous challenge and will have an impact on services and road.” And he added: “The government needs to wake up – all the parties – and think about rural areas. There is a real national issue here that needs looking at.”
He explained: “The amount of government funding that comes into North Yorkshire for the main public services (local government, health, police, schools) is £2,598 per head of population. In Westminster the amount per head of government funding is £3,870 and in Leeds the amount per head of public funding is £3,109. If North Yorkshire had the same level of funding per head as Westminster we would receive in the region of an additional £763 million for these public services. If we were funded to the same level as Leeds per head of population then the increase of funding would be £306million for this range of public services.
“It interesting to note that the average salary levels in North Yorkshire are £25,029, in Leeds the average salary is £26,200 and in Westminster the average salary is £39,166.”
He was also concerned about how many urban roads received much more funding that rural ones, even though the latter, like those in the Dales were affected by the wide variations in weather and heavy agricultural machinery.
As Northern England had been most affected by reductions in local authority spending power he said the county council had to target its resources on the most vulnerable in its communities. This put other services such as transport, children’s centres and libraries, under a lot of stress.
“As a result we have to think what are the strengths you can fall back on to get through this. Our strengths are the types of communities we have in rural areas and in North Yorkshire. Our response to the challenge is to set money and individuals aside and to go out there and be innovative and find local solutions. We are in difficult times but I think we can get through this because of the entrepreneurial innovative spirit.”
He illustrated this by describing how 20 more libraries could join the seven which are already run by volunteers.
Richmondshire District councillor Tony Duff questioned this. He stated: “We in Leyburn are very much against being ditched yet again. We were ditched last time – we managed to fight back and we produced a service with 40 hours of library instead of the 15 (with the help of) a lot of volunteers. We are now told you are going to remove all the county council employees. I think we deserve some support.”
Mr Frinton replied: “We are not withdrawing the service. We are saying we are going to withdraw the paid staff. We will provide the books and the IT and will pay a large proportion of the library running costs. A lot of councils just take a knife to the budget. We are saying that as a partnership with the community we will see how we will work through it together.”
WORKING IN PARTNERSHIP
“Partnership working is absolutely essential – not just in terms of finance but in terms of working together to solve problems,” said Jo-Anne Simpson, Richmondshire District Council’s culture and wellbeing delivery manager.
She pointed out that there wasn’t likely to be any capital investment for many projects, so communities needed to be creative and use the facilities they had. For instance secondary and primary schools had facilities that could be used by the community in the evenings or at weekends.
“And why not use the wonderful environment? And so we are looking at unusual ways of providing vocational opportunities for young people like internships and apprenticeships, and some maybe connected with sport.
“ I think the real strength throughout the district (is that) everybody does want to work together. So let’s package Richmondshire in such a way that people want to be part of it – that they want to buy into and contribute to the brand.”
Richmondshire has been developing such partnerships for the last 10 years through a network of community offices, Tony Clark the managing director of the RDC reported. That model, he said had evolved with the various councils working together to try and continue providing services during a time of austerity.
He gave as an illustration the way office space had been allocated to the Richmond Volunteer Centre and Richmondshire DBS in half of the building used by the district council in Richmond. Charities could be based there and create a community hub to provide sustainable services for local people. “That’s the type of initiative the council wants to bring forward and deliver over the next five years,” he said.
Another example was the way the district council had supported community bus services like the Little White Bus in Wensleydale. “It is that type of service which is going to be the future of viable communities – working with communities and looking for volunteers,” he told the Summit.
This method of working with local communities had led to the district council investing a million pounds into local projects ranging from the upgrading of village halls to cultural activities. It was also supporting the Andrew and Emily Faggs’ school house project in Hawes.
“People in rural areas want to have the same facilities and access to services as their urban colleagues do,” Mr Clark commented. And that was why Richmondshire District Council had been a strong advocate for rural issues and had been involved in several campaigns in recent years to ensure rural residents got a fair deal.
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