North Yorkshire leaders put forward rival plans for future of council services after Simon Clarke's devolution ultimatum

The leader of North Yorkshire County Council has 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.

By Rob Parsons
Monday, 20th July 2020, 5:45 am
Updated Monday, 20th July 2020, 9:02 am

Council officials will draw up plans for a single body providing services for the county's 600,000 population after being told by a government Minister that no devolution deal would be agreed without a shake-up of local government.

This would mean the seven district councils would be disbanded and the services they provide such as planning and rubbish collection would be taken over by a county-wide body, but City of York Council would be left intact.

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At a meeting last week Conservatives on the council indicated they were willing for a proposal for how this arrangement would work to be put to government, though district council leaders are also working on rival plans.

One district leader, Keane Duncan in Ryedale, writes in The Yorkshire Post today that creating what he describes as a 'super council' for all of North Yorkshire "could sink this golden opportunity for our county".

Minister Simon Clarke 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.

He has warned that any devolution deal, which local leaders hope will give the area the ability to become the nation's first negative-carbon economy, would require the election of a metro mayor and for district councils to be replaced with one or more unitary authorities.

Pictured A view looking down from Blakey Ridge over Danby Dale towards Botton Village Camphill Trust. Pic: James Hardisty

County council leader Carl Les said the authority was due to have talks with officials from Durham and Cornwall, both of which have unitary authorities, to find out how they operate.

He said: "Our proposals would seek to offer the best service to our residents and the best deal for our council taxpayers whilst also retaining decision making and delivery at the most local level.

"We are aware that there may be competing proposals, but our proposal will be in no way hostile. It is for Ministers to choose which is the best."

The size of the authority that replaces the current structure is likely to be a bone of contention in the ongoing talks. Mr Clarke told the Commons last month that "as a rule of thumb (new authorities) are expected to be substantially in excess of 300k-400k". Including the City of York, the population of North Yorkshire is more than 800,000.

Coun Duncan writes today: "The size, identity and culture of the new authorities, then, will be just as crucial to our future fortunes as the finer details of the devo deal and the credentials of our new mayor.

"How would the public engage with one, centralised authority across a huge geographical area? Just how would services be delivered effectively and with appropriate local input?

"Rural North Yorkshire, containing the ancient City of York, deserves an approach tailored to its challenges, opportunities, diverse geography and special character.

"We have a very short window – a matter of weeks – to seize this moment and formulate alternatives to rival the ‘super council’ option. Failure to make a constructive case will only mean our destiny is decided for us, via mathematical formulae rather than local communities."