Scarborough Council leader claims devolution to split county in half could save £56m a year

Devolution plans from North Yorkshire’s seven district council leaders would save more than £56 million every year, it has been claimed.

By Carl Gavaghan, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Thursday, 27th August 2020, 1:14 pm
Updated Thursday, 27th August 2020, 1:20 pm
Scarborough Town Hall with council leader Steve Siddons pictured inset.
Scarborough Town Hall with council leader Steve Siddons pictured inset.

Cllr Steve Siddons, the leader of Scarborough Borough Council, says the benefits of splitting the county in half far outweigh North Yorkshire County Council’s “mega council” plan.

Today, the seven district councils have outlined their plan for what devolution in North Yorkshire and York should look like.

Backed by an independent report by KPMG, the leaders of the councils are proposing an east/west divide and the creation of two unitary authorities to span the whole area.

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A map showing the how the seven district councils could be split into an east and a west group.

This would leave Ryedale, Scarborough, Selby and York in the east on the so-called “A64 corridor” and Craven, Hambleton, Harrogate and Richmondshire in the west.

The model advocated by district and borough leaders would create an east authority with a population of 465,375 and a west authority with a population of 363,297.

The county council’s plan is to create a unitary authority covering the whole of North Yorkshire with a population of 617,982, while preserving the existing City of York unitary authority with a population of 210,618.

Cllr Siddons, the Labour leader of Scarborough, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that KPMG was given 10 options for devolution to look into, including the county council’s plan.

He said it came back saying the east/west divide was the best option and would save more than £56m each year, more than double the £25m promised by the county.

He said: “We told KPMG we wanted them to review everything including the North Yorkshire model as if that came out as the best option then we need to know that, but it didn’t.

"It came out significantly worse.

“The report, which will be published very shortly as it is not quite finished, will have all the detail and evidence in it.

“We think our proposal will save at least £56m, more than the £25m I think the county is claiming and we will have the figures to back that up.

"We have asked the county to give us the figures they are using so we can examine them but they have not done that so far.

“There are pros and cons to all the models.

"The major issue with the county’s plan, in my opinion, is that it is too remote.

"It is the economic corridors that are a big issue for us.

"We don’t really have any connection at all with Northallerton or Craven or even Harrogate.

"Our connections are with Ryedale through to York and then on to the West Riding.

“It may even make sense for Whitby to look north to Teesside but the Government has told us that we have to stick to the existing boundaries of North Yorkshire.

"There is an argument for saying that Whitby might be better with an authority looking north as a lot of their jobs are based up there.

"Similarly, some of us, like Filey maybe better looking towards the East Riding but we can’t do that.

“The county is trying to counteract the geography issue by saying it will give parish councils more money and power but it is horses for courses in some respects as some parish councils are really good and might want to take on extra responsibilities but some of them might not.

"So having powers foisted on them or the alternative of running everything from Northallerton doesn’t really cut the mustard with me.

"What we are saying is that a split will give us manageable geography that will bring economic benefits, which is what the Government is asking us to do.”

Cllr Siddons said the downside of the district’s proposal was that the existing children’s and adult social care provisions, currently run individually by North Yorkshire County Council and City of York Council, would have to be split.

The county council, as part of its Stronger Together bid, has warned about the impact of splitting the services and last week, Professor Maggie Atkinson, chairman of the North Yorkshire Children’s Safeguarding Board, and Sir Martin Narey, chairman of the North Yorkshire Coast Opportunity Area backed the single authority plan.

In a letter to the county council, Prof Atkinson said “vulnerable children and young people would inevitably face the possibility of falling in the gap” if the service was split.

Sir Martin also said the county’s plan would be the best way to deliver the services.

Cllr Siddons rejected these claims.

He said: “We absolutely do not agree with what has been said and we are annoyed that they have made those comments as they have not seen our proposals.

“They know North Yorkshire as that is what they work with now and they do have some excellent services but they are not excellent everywhere though, in Scarborough, they are not that good. It is the service that has been rated as outstanding not the end product.

"We would have preferred them to wait to see our proposals before making a judgement.

“Also, as we are including York there is already two sets of children’s services, York’s and North Yorkshire’s, so even in [the county’s] proposal there will be two sets of children’s services.”

The district leaders have now launched the Get Change Right campaign, urging residents to have their say on the proposals.

Cllr Siddons added: “I think it is a testament to how we feel about it that all seven district council leaders, of three different political persuasions, have all come together on this and said the county’s plan is not right.”

The government had told councils in North Yorkshire and York that it wanted bids to be submitted in September, though Cllr Siddons revealed that leaders were now being told that a letter outlining the timeframe may not be sent for another fortnight, potentially pushing the process into October.

Yesterday, North Yorkshire County Council leader Cllr Carl Les joined with Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen to talk up the benefits of devolution for the county.

Cllr Les said: “I often look across the border to the Tees Valley with a sense of envy at the terrific investment and empowerment the mayoral combined authority and devolution of power have delivered there. While I have no mayoral ambitions personally – I can see the strength of voice and influence this approach delivers and believe strongly that our region would benefit hugely from it.

“It’s no secret that, in response to the order from Government to end the current county and district model of service delivery, we are developing a proposal for a new single council for North Yorkshire.

“We believe this proposal would protect the county’s identified boundaries and create a stronger and simpler council to serve the whole of the county’s population. We also seek to preserve the City of York in our proposal. As a unitary council, York has already delivered the financial benefits associated with streamlining council service delivery.

“We advocate a double devolution deal model – whereby money and powers would come from Whitehall to the town hall and then town hall to village hall – for those town and parish councils that would like that.

“However we also accept that there are other proposals and believe that all bids should be put forward to the Secretary of State so they can be considered on their merits alongside each other. It would then be for the Government to take a view and consult with the public.”

Both the districts and the county have now launched websites to get their messages out to the public. Click here and here for more.

They can be found here and here.