Financial safeguards put in place for move to new North Yorkshire unitary authority

A unified approach to ensuring major projects across North Yorkshire are employing taxpayers’ money effectively in the run-up to a wide-ranging overhaul of local democracy has been put in place.

By Duncan Atkins
Monday, 23rd May 2022, 2:49 pm
Updated Monday, 23rd May 2022, 2:51 pm

Senior councillors on North Yorkshire County Council have today (May 23) given the go-ahead to work closely with colleagues at the county’s seven district authorities to monitor major financial decisions and ensure leading schemes become a reality.

All eight councils will merge to create a new unitary authority from April 1 next year in the biggest shake-up of local government in North Yorkshire for nearly half-a-century.

The decision by the county council’s executive to liaise with district authorities to keep a check on major spending across North Yorkshire has been heralded as a vital move to provide a carefully co-ordinated approach to the shift to a single over-arching authority and ensure adequate funds are available from the spring of next year.

North Yorkshire County Council's executive.

District councils will continue to operate and make decisions for major schemes ranging from the renovations of leisure centres to regeneration schemes under the Government’s Towns Fund, which is providing £3.6bin nationally as part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s drive to level up the country’s economy.

The leader of North Yorkshire County Council, Cllr Carl Les, said: “The need to keep a close check on the public’s finances is obviously key in local government, and this is even more important as we move towards the new unitary authority.

“We have already been in a close dialogue with our colleagues in the district councils who are adopting a very reasonable approach, and this is simply about ensuring that there is a seamless and effective transition from eight councils to one.

“There is a vested interest for all of us to work closely together over the next 10 months.

"The councillors who have been elected to North Yorkshire County Council will continue representing the public when the new authority launches, so this is a key decision to ensure that we begin the new era on a stable financial footing.”

The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Michael Gove, has issued a direction which gives the county council’s executive the power to halt any relevant financial decision which could be of detriment to the new authority.

However, the executive has today approved a far wider remit for the district councils’ decision-making process, rather than confining it to Mr Gove’s direction under Section 24 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act of 2007.

The legislation restricts district councils from entering into revenue contracts and disposals of land in excess of £100,000 or “capital contracts” exceeding £1m without the consent of the county council’s executive.

The county council has confirmed that sanctions for not complying with the direction would be severe, but senior officers are confident that a close working relationship with district authorities will ensure a smooth transition to the new structure of local government in North Yorkshire.

The county council’s corporate director of strategic resources, Gary Fielding, said: “We have a good working relationship with the district councils in North Yorkshire, and as such we have put our confidence in that partnership.

"As a result, the district councils have far greater control over their decision-making than would have been available under the Section 24 direction as issued by the Government."

The executive also formally approved an implementation plan to secure a smooth transition to the new North Yorkshire Council.

A total of 15 areas have been identified to help shape the services which will be overseen by the new authority, and range from locality, corporate governance and finance to human resources, economic development, housing and culture, leisure and sport.

The implementation plan had previously been agreed in March between officials from the county and district councils, but the executive has now approved the blueprint after assuming political governance of the transition to the new unitary authority.

District and borough councils will remain until April 1, 2023, and the councillors serving on those local authorities will continue in their roles until that date.