North Yorkshire County Council backs bid to create one unitary authority in local government shake-up

North Yorkshire County Council has agreed to submit a bid to create one unitary authority for the whole region as part of local government reorganisation.

Wednesday, 4th November 2020, 6:06 pm
Updated Wednesday, 4th November 2020, 6:10 pm
North Yorkshire County Council has agreed to submit a bid to create one unitary authority for the whole region.

The council met today and voted in support of the plan to merge itself with councils in Harrogate, Scarborough, Selby, Craven, Hambleton, Ryedale and Richmondshire - whilst leaving the City of York intact.

It is part of a move linked to devolution after the government said in July that tens of millions of pounds and decision-making powers could be transferred to the region - but only if the current two-tier council system is scrapped.

Today's vote - described as one of the "most important decisions elected members will ever make" - was passed 57 in favour to 11 against.

The county council will now formally submit its bid, while the region's seven district councils are preparing to submit rival proposals for two new unitary authorities - one in the east and one in the west.

Speaking after today's meeting, county council leader Carl Les said: “We firmly believe that our proposal for a new single unitary council, based on North Yorkshire’s well recognised geography and delivering strong public services to everyone here is the best option for economic recovery and sustainable local government.

"I am pleased the Secretary of State will now be able to consider our bid on its merits alongside any others which may come forward."

However, there are concerns over whether North Yorkshire will be able to cope with local government reorganisation during or after the coronavirus pandemic.

Councillor Stuart Parsons, leader of the Independent group on the county council, said abolishing the current two-tier council system would cause more disruption for services already under pressure.

He said: "I think central government really needs to get itself to grips with what is actually going on in our country rather than to simply rearrange deck chairs on yet another ship of state that will sink.

"However, other people have different opinions of that and ministers seem determined to drive on."

Councillor Parsons said he could not vote in favour of the "incomplete" bid document and that there was also confusion over how parish councils would fit into the picture.

Councillor Geoff Webber, leader of the Liberal Democrats on the county council, did vote in support of the plan. He said: "I think this is the third time I have been faced with proposals for a unitary councils and in the past I have fiercely opposed a county takeover.

"However, this time it is different. The government - with some justification - has decided two-tier local government has outlived its usefulness and is forcing us to adopt a system more suited to the 21st century.

"The county council and City of York have both been in agreement over the way forward since the process began. This is surely a significant indicator of the desire to work together as a combined authority."

The opposing east/plan would see 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 under one mayor.

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

This plan is backed by all district council leaders.

The final decision on which plan to use will be taken by the government following a consultation in 2021.

The new unitary authority or authorities could be created by 2022 or 2023.

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter