Leaders warn of 'unequal marriage' between York and North Yorkshire in devolution deal

District council leaders have warned that creating an “unequal marriage” between York and North Yorkshire councils would give the region’s new mayor “conflict from the get-go” in any new devolution deal.

Monday, 27th July 2020, 7:29 am

A letter seen by The Yorkshire Post, signed by all seven district council leaders, appealed to the region’s MPs and the Government to keep an open mind as proposals are put forward on how to reform local government in North Yorkshire before powers and funding can be handed over from Westminster.

Local government minister Simon Clarke made clear earlier this month that if North Yorkshire wants to follow West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire in securing devolution deals from the Government, the region would have to look at ripping up thedemocractic landscape and move from the current system to impose unitary authorities.

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As it stands North Yorkshire is made up of North Yorkshire County Council, which runs services such as social care, transport, and education, then seven district councils running planning, waste collection and other services. York Council stands alone running all those services as one overarching authority.

But for any deal to progress the Government has dictated that the structure must change, with unitary authorities created instead.

Last week the leader of North Yorkshire County Council insisted a proposed single unitary authority covering England's largest county should not be viewed as "hostile" by district leaders whose local councils would be disbanded as a result.

But district council leaders including Coun Keane Duncan in Ryedale have expressed their concern about the creation of any ‘super councils’ which would represent up to 600,000 to 800,000 people.

A devolution deal for North Yorkshire could be agreed in the coming months. Pic: James Hardisty

In the letter district council leaders said it “would not be correct to say all district council leaders support unitary government” but that “change presents us with an opportunity to shape, streamline and modernise local government in York and North Yorkshire”.

But it said any proposal to turn North Yorkshire County Council, which covers 600,000 people, into a unitary council, and let City of York Council continue covering 200,000 people, would “store up problems for the future”.

The leaders accepted that would be the “simple, quick solution”, but added: “It creates a marriage of unequal partners between a North Yorkshire unitary and City of York council under a mayoral devolution agreement.”

They said: “It will give our new Mayor conflict from the get-go.

“It will also entrench the remoteness many residents feel towards Northallerton as the administrative centre of North Yorkshire.

“It consolidates the inefficiency of City of York Council which inevitably comes, not from poorly run administrations, but from the small population of a tiny unitary.”

The letter said the district council leaders would put forward their own proposals, and it is understood consultants KPMG have been instructed to help them draw up their plans.

The moving away of decision making from local areas is a concern also echoed by the Yorkshire Party, which criticised the unitary authorities plan

Bob Buxton, the party’s leader, said: “We oppose unitary authorities for North Yorkshire. We are concerned that dissimilar communities may be grouped together and it will be difficult to find common ground on policies which should be more localised.”

But the move to unitary authorities could spell disaster for the pro-devolution party.

On a district council level the party had four councillors on Selby District Council, plus two more on East Riding of Yorkshire Council.

But in North Yorkshire they are now left with just one, Coun David Brook, after Coun Mike Jordan and his daughter Coun Eleanor Jordan left to rejoin the Conservative Party, and Coun Paul Welburn has stepped down after moving abroad.

Coun Jordan also sits on North Yorkshire County Council.

Mr Buxton said: “So we've got one district councillor who would be affected by this but I personally believe that David would get himself elected onto a new authority, which certainly we would fight very hard to do.

“And so it isn't about us worrying about losing that seat, no, we’d get a bigger seat. But it's our principle of localism.”

He added: “We want to see Westminster powers brought down to One Yorkshire and we certainly don't want to see taking [of] powers from districts.”

The Government has given leaders in North Yorkshire until September to come up with proposals which could then be put out to a public consultation before a decision is made.