North Yorkshire's two-tier councils replaced with single unitary authority in biggest local government shake-up in almost 50 years

North Yorkshire’s two-tier councils will be replaced with a single unitary authority in what will mark the biggest changes to local government in the county in almost 50 years and in a decision that has divided leaders, MPs and councillors.

By Lucy Leeson
Thursday, 22nd July 2021, 8:39 am
Updated Thursday, 22nd July 2021, 8:40 am

A consultation on two proposals to remove two-tier local government in North Yorkshire closed in April.

Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick MP revealed last night that the chosen option was for a new single council structure proposed by North Yorkshire County Council over a rival bid for two authorities split on a east/west basis.

Under the plans York City Council will also remain as a unitary council.

Knaresborough, North Yorkshire. (JPI Media)

North Yorkshire’s two-tier councils will be replaced with a single unitary authority in what will mark the biggest changes to local government in the county in almost 50 years and in a decision that has divided leaders, MPs and councillors.

A rejected east/west plan would have seen the county’s seven district councils - Scarborough, Harrogate, Ryedale, Craven, Hambleton, Selby and Richmondshire - and York split in half to create two authorities of roughly the same population size.

Scarborough, Ryedale, Selby and York would have been in one authority with Craven, Hambleton, Richmondshire and Harrogate in the other.

The seven district councils will now be abolished and services taken over the county council following elections to be held in May next year.

Scarborough, on the Yorkshire Coast. (JPI Media/ Richard Ponter)

Mr Jenrick said the decision was a “significant step” towards ensuring the people and businesses across North Yorkshire can in future have “sustainable high-quality local services they deserve”.

He added that the decision showed the Government remains “committed to devolving power to people and places across the UK”.

“We are open to devolution where there is strong local leadership, whether supported by two tier local government, unitary structures or various joint arrangements,” he said.

The decision has divided political figures across the county.

Leader of North Yorkshire County Council, Councillor Carl Les said: “We are pleased that this has been recognised by the Government as the right thing for the future, but now we have to work together between the two tiers to make the transition as good as possible for the benefit of our residents, our businesses and the many staff that we employ as well.

“This moves away from the confusion you get in tiers of whose job is what. For example at the moment you have one council emptying the bins and then another disposing of the rubbish - there are so many confusions like this. We have always believed that two tiers is inefficient and within inefficiency comes extra costs.

“By getting rid of the confusion and the inefficiency, we get rid of that extra cost which actually puts the council in a stronger position going forward because local government is not going to be in a good place for funding because the nation has to recover from the pandemic, and all the spending that the chancellor has been quite rightly doing so has been to protect jobs.”

Leader of the City of York Council, Councillor Aspden said the decision was a “huge vote of confidence” for the city and that the authority can continue delivering its largest investment programme for generations across the city. He added that the decision will pave way for further discussion and progress on devolution.

Scarborough and Whitby MP Robert Goodwill said he concluded the best deal was for the two authorities of North Yorkshire and York, rather than the east/west split.

The former Minister of State at the Department of Education said: “Because North Yorkshire County Council is already spending about 75 or 80 per cent of the money anyway, the disruption will be minimised by doing this compared to creating two new authorities. I think the other problem is that while people are reasonably comfortable having a county council based in Northallerton, I think if we’d had an East Yorkshire and coast including York it would have been dominated by York which is a regional centre.

“I think people will be reassured that we’re not going to basically become sort of one of the satellites of York itself.”

His view was however refuted by others.

Scarborough Borough Council leader, Councillor Steve Siddens described the announcement as “not a good day for democracy”.

Coun Siddons said he felt the decision from the Government to create the 600,000 plus population unitary authority in North Yorkshire was a “dog’s breakfast”.

He said: “I am extremely disappointed with this announcement.

“The Government appears to have ignored their own criteria and advice and have approved a single countywide unitary that is bigger than any other in the country and far bigger than their recommended maximum size.

“It also leaves York as a unitary much smaller than the Government’s minimum size recommendation.

“My prediction is that York will inevitably be swallowed up by this mega county. A dog’s breakfast springs to mind.”

The leaders of Harrogate Borough Council, Councillor Richard Cooper, and Richmondshire District Council, Councillor Angie Dale said they were “extremely disappointed” by the Government’s decision, but pledged to make sure the new system works.

Coun Dale said: “We will now have the most ‘un-local government in the country’ but we will work together to make sure this new system of local government works for the residents and businesses of Richmondshire and for North Yorkshire. There is a great deal of hard work ahead of us to make sure our excellent services continue.”