Devolution for North Yorkshire: Scarborough Borough Council is likely to be scrapped, 'but a voice on the coast is vital'

Scarborough Council’s leader says that local issues most be at the heart of any North Yorkshire devolution plan, after it was announced that the borough authority is to likely to be scrapped in a radical shake-up of local government.

Monday, 13th July 2020, 1:07 pm
Updated Monday, 13th July 2020, 1:08 pm

Cllr Steve Siddons said that representation on the coast is vital as part of any countywide devolution deal.

The county’s seven district councils, which includes Scarborough Borough Council, have been told they must go if North Yorkshire wants devolution, which would bring more powers and spending potential to the county.

Following a meeting with Local Government Minister Simon Clarke last week, it is proposed to create one or two combined authorities under a metro Mayor for the county in 2022.

Scarborough Town Hall, with Steve Siddons inset.

The size of the new authority, which would also include York, is still to be decided but the combined 800,000 people living in North Yorkshire and York is considered too large for one stand-alone council.

Councils in the area have until September to submit their proposals for what the future unitary authority could look like.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Cllr Siddons said that things were moving fast but that for “many years” his Labour group had advocated for a unitary authority to “save money and make things more efficient”.

He said: “Essentially the government has indicated that they are not prepared to go down a devolution route without linking it to unitary status. So that means that if that’s the case Scarborough Council as a separate entity would cease to exist at that point of moving to devolution.

“We don’t have to have a Mayor but that is what [the government] would prefer and it is a model that comes with extra funding and power so I think it’s something that leaders across North Yorkshire and York are quite happy to do.

"So any proposal we put forward will have a Mayor at the heart of it.

“The way that it is split up is still up for negotiation but we will be looking at a model that protects the interests of our local residents.”

Under the present system, North Yorkshire County Council is responsible for education, highways, social care and transport. The seven district councils are responsible for the majority of planning matters, licensing, bin collections and council tax collections.

York has one council to run all services.

Any of the councils involved in the process can submit a proposal to the government to be considered.

While Cllr Siddons said that any plan would undergo a local consultation, he added that there had been no mention of a referendum on the final deal as of yet.

He said: “I think the most important thing is that there is local representation.

“I don’t think I would like to see anything where whatever unitary authority or authorities that are created is managed a long distance away so I would like to see something where there is local representation and a recognition of the different demographics of parts of North Yorkshire.

“There are massive differences in people’s life chances and quality of life in North Yorkshire and we need to make sure that whatever unitary authority ends up running this part of the world recognises and supports the need to make changes locally.

“Whatever happens I am sure there will still be a civic base in the Scarborough area. There will have to be as you are providing local services.”

Cllr Siddons said the government told council leaders that it doesn’t see any local authority with fewer than 300,000 residents as being “viable”, meaning that York, with a population of approximately 200,000, would not be able to go it alone and would have to join with the rest of the county in some way.

Cllr Siddons added: “The optimum, and that word was used by Simon Clarke in the meeting that I was involved in with him, the optimum figure is 400,000. Given the fact that York and North Yorkshire together are around 800,000 the logic suggests that you might have two authorities.

“We have got to have a recognition of coastal communities. I think when it comes to things like planning it is all still to play for. Even if you have one authority of around 400,000 people you can’t just have one planning authority that would look after all that, I would guess, as you do need to look at local issues.”

The government’s intention is to make the changes from April 2022, with Mayoral elections taking place in May alongside elections to the new unitary authority or authorities.

If the devolution plan moves forward the county council elections scheduled for next year would be cancelled, as likely would be the elections for the Police, Crime and Fire Commissioner as those responsibilities are presumed to rest with the new elected Mayor.

“It is a very tight timescale and I don’t know whether they can achieve that, but we have to get our proposals by September,” Cllr Siddons said.

“We will continue with our programme of proposals until the government tells us there is a different deal on the table and stops us.

“It is business as usual as far as we are concerned. There are things that need to happen in the borough post-Covid to get the economy working again and I think that will be the same whether its the same system or a new unitary system. Those same problems will still be there.”

The government hopes to put the proposals for the new authority structure before Parliament in the new year.

The devolution progress has also been welcomed by Cllr Carl Les, the Conservative Leader of North Yorkshire County Council.

In a statement, Cllr Les said: “In North Yorkshire we support devolution and see it as an important mechanism to release more funding which will greatly strengthen our economic regeneration and recovery – particularly in the context of emerging from the human and financial impact of Covid-19.

“We have always been clear that key decisions about our county, which impact on our people and communities, are most effective when made here. We would therefore welcome more money and powers to move North Yorkshire’s economy and infrastructure forward in this way.

“Linking strong devolution deals to unitary status is the challenge Government has issued. We are at a critical time for our county and region and can see the positive opportunities to simplify structures and access to high quality services, strengthen our economy and voice nationally to lobby for greater investment and save significant sums of money.

“These are important to the people we serve and we will consider this more in the days ahead.”

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