Just one council for all of North Yorkshire would not be too big, says Minister Simon Clarke
A single council providing local services to the entire 610,000 population of North Yorkshire would not be too big to be accepted as part of any devolution deal, according to a government Minister.
Local Government Minister Simon Clarke said in a letter that the proposal being put together by North Yorkshire County Council to replace the current two-tier arrangement with just one unitary authority would "not be out of scope".
As part of talks between government and local leaders over the devolution of powers and hundreds of millions in extra funding to North Yorkshire, Mr Clarke says local government in England's biggest county must be reformed.
This would mean the seven district councils who currently provide some local services would be disbanded and one or more unitary authorities created to cover the county.
District leaders have argued against the creation of one authority for all of North Yorkshire, excluding York, saying this "mega council" would not be workable because it would be too big.
They are working on plans for two unitary authorities either side of the A1, with the eastern authority taking in the City of York as well as neighbouring Ryedale, Selby and Scarborough.
The letter from Mr Clarke responds to a question by North Yorkshire County Council leader Richard Flinton as to whether one unitary authority covering a population of 610,000 would be acceptable.
It said: "As you know and we have discussed, we believe areas such as North Yorkshire moving to unitary status with more sustainable and efficient councils can have significant benefits for local people and businesses, including improved and more affordable local services, stronger and more accountable local leadership, and by removing a layer of governance enabling town and parish councils and local communities to be genuinely empowered.
"As I have always made clear, whilst various population ranges have been mentioned as providing in general terms a starting point for considering establishing a unitary council, the particular circumstances of each case must be considered.
"In the case of North Yorkshire it is clear to me that a unitary council with a population of 610,000, as you mention, would not be out of scope.
"That said, any specific proposal submitted in response to an invitation would need to demonstrate how it would deliver the benefits I have described above, and the Secretary of State would of course consider carefully all such proposals on their merits."
A few weeks ago Mr Clarke told Parliament that any new unitary councils "as a rule of thumb are expected to be substantially in excess of 300k-400k".
Council leaders have until September to get their submissions to government before a public consultation is held and Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick will judge which has the widest support.
The local government shake-up is a condition of a devolution deal which North Yorkshire leaders hope would see £2.4bn of investment in the county and help it become the first carbon-negative economy.
County Council leader Carl Les said: “I hope this lays the counter argument to rest once and for all. It’s there in black and white to be read by anyone who would like to see it so now we get on with the important business of preparing our bid.
“The timescales are tight and time is of the essence – the moment is now and we have a very strong case to argue.
“Not only will a new single, strong, sustainable council for North Yorkshire protect outstanding services which safeguard our most vulnerable people, but it is the only bid which will keep the county together and prevent the huge disruption to frontline public services that splitting them up would deliver.
“It will also enable a double devo deal by which we will empower local communities by handing down additional powers and budgets to town and parish council who want them and give people a stronger say via a network of community forums based around market town areas.”