A North Yorkshire council with 144 councillors would drown out local voices, says Ryedale leader Keane Duncan

Democratic voices would be "drowned out" if 144 councillors served on a new single authority for all of North Yorkshire, a district leader has claimed.

Saturday, 8th August 2020, 5:45 am
Ryedale council leader Keane Duncan opposed a so-called 'mega council' in North Yorkshire.

The option was one of several considered at a 'discussion workshop' this week on the shake-up of local government which Ministers are demanding as the price of a devolution deal.

After being told the current two-tier system involving seven district councils must end, North Yorkshire County Council is drawing up a plan for a single unitary authority providing all council services.

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But district leaders say this so-called 'mega council' would be too big and distant from communities. They are working on their own plans for two unitary authorities either side of the A1.

One of them, Ryedale's Keane Duncan, says that creating an authority with 144 councillors, twice the current total, would be "a scary plan for residents in all corners of our vast county".

But the county council says no final decision has yet been made on numbers and that the workshop of local councillors was simply "looking at ideas" for governance structures.

A council spokeswoman said: "The workshop members agreed there would be further discussion, particularly around the exciting, new enhanced local decision making roles of the area constituency committee in our proposal for a single council; this will inform the number of councillors required overall as strong voices need to be heard at the area level.

"Many councillors at the workshop favoured starting off with 144 councillors (the current county council has 72), two for every division instead of one, and for this to be reduced by the time of the first election cycle, possibly to 90 following a detailed review by the boundary commission.

"This would follow the pattern of what happened when Cornwall and Buckinghamshire became unitary councils – they had initial higher numbers of councillors which then reduced.

"This was part of the transition process recommended by government. But even at 144 this would be a less than half of the current number of councillors in district and

county councils combined – currently 301."

If North Yorkshire did have 144 councillors it would be a higher total than Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester councils. Buckinghamshire, which is also becoming a unitary council, will have 147 when it holds its postponed elections next summer.

Coun Duncan said: “The end result would be a competition between 144 councillors trying their hardest to get the residents of their section of North Yorkshire’s vast expanse heard by decision makers in Northallerton.

“I fear that no matter how loud we shout, the views and concerns of our residents will not cut through this scrap for attention.

“Our democratic voices would be drowned out, weakened rather than strengthened, disastrously disadvantaging the local people who elect us to represent them.”

Councils have until September to put forward their plans for how local government could look in North Yorkshire. A public consultation would then be held and Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick would decide which option has most support.

Currently North Yorkshire County Council provides services like education, transport and social care while district councils in areas like Harrogate, Ryedale and Scarborough provide services like waste collection and planning.

The county council says "maximum gain and minimum disruption will come from the creation of a single strong, sustainable council for everyone in North Yorkshire, based on the current map and population". This would mean City of York Council would stay on its current boundaries.

But Coun Duncan and other district leaders want an alternative involving councils which are "large enough to make savings into the future but small enough to stay connected with our communities".

If a local government structure can be agreed North Yorkshire leaders hope a devolution deal would bring in as much as £2.4bn in investment and boost its hopes of being the first carbon-negative economy.