Council defends property savings action as ‘quick wins’ are revealed

North Yorkshire Council as defended its record on achieving promised savings to the public purse after members of the ruling Conservative group voiced frustration over the speed in selling off premises that it no longer needs.

However, finance bosses at North Yorkshire Council have also warned against hurrying decisions over the future its 3,000 property and land assets, such as farms, offices, industrial units and commercial assets, saying rapid action could end up costing the taxpayer more than it saves.

Nevertheless, a meeting of the authority’s corporate and partnerships scrutiny committee heard the council was set to achieve some “quick wins”, moving staff moved from the leased Jesmond House in Harrogate, from Richmondshire House in Richmond and North Yorkshire House, in Scalby.

It was also confirmed the former district council bases at Stone Cross in Northallerton, Belle Vue Square, Skipton and Ryedale House, Malton, were to be mothballed or partly mothballed.

Detailed decisions about the future of the buildings have yet to be made.

Councillors were told one key customer access point was envisaged in each former district, that extra mobile council services offices could be considered alongside the authority’s “digital-first approach” and that the economic impact of moving staff would be studied.

The meeting heard although the quick wins represented 140 tonnes of less carbon and nearly £500,000 of savings, with potential for much more, some councillors had complained about the lack of progress while residents were facing escalating council tax bills.

Responding to concerns raised by councillors, the council’s director of resources Gary Fielding and executive member for finance Councillor Gareth Dadd admitted they too had been frustrated over the time it was taking to rationalise the authority’s estate following the merger of eight councils last April.

A key plank of North Yorkshire County Council’s argument for creating a unitary authority had been it would yield up to £68.5m of savings, which included saving an annual £1.9m on council premises.

Coun Dadd added: “I think I can safely say that we will reach that and more, but I do accept the quick wins haven’t been as quick as we would have liked.”

He added the £39m of identified local government savings so far was “something to be proud of”.

Officers said they were near to completing a review of each of the council’s 3,000 property and land assets, such as farms, offices, industrial units and commercial assets.

Nevertheless, the meeting heard considerations such as cutting carbon emissions and improving services were making decisions more complex.

Mr Fielding said “clear progress has been made”, but before the council stopped using a building, assessments of the potential impact on residents and services had to be undertaken.

The meeting heard during the review the authority had discovered it owned some “fairly notable buildings” it had been unaware were part of its estate, including some previous county council buildings.

Mr Fielding added some 11 months into the new authority, some services had not been restructured or had heads of service in place, making it challenging to forecast their future needs.

He said: “We are still finding our way through a post-Covid hybrid working model. For lots of the area’s professional white collar services that hybrid way of working is still emerging.”

Councillor Nick Brown said he was concerned projected savings could be delayed by “people who are worried about their jobs” rather than being focused on making the council more efficient.

He said: “That’s human nature, but once those savings are not realised and the reserves are spent… we’ve got to move on, fairly quickly. I’m worried that we’ve got to step up our game here else time will march on and we will have lost some opportunities.

“We have had two years now to be thinking about staffing structures. Right from the word go we knew broadly what the head counts were for the constituent authorities. What’s the deadline for all the structural changes?

Mr Fielding told the meeting: “We could save £1m on the property estate, but cause £10m of inefficiency in services. That would be folly.”

2 Comments

  1. Nothing would surprise me about the Council. I assume there was planning involved re all these marvellous changes but don’t hold your breath for any results. Thete’s more “committees ” than you can shake a stick at..Just look at the state of the roads, the problems when the A684 is flooded just past Bedale side of Morton bridge… I could go on but the people who pay their C.Tax year in
    and year out and are expected to pay an even higher amount this year are more than aware of the fairy tales. I do wonder if these people at the Council making decisions believe what they spout? I do not. To coin a phrase -” it would make a cat laugh ” PS’I am assuming there is an Education Dept. at C.Hall but the sign on the entrance to the carparks on Racecourse Lane would make me wonder. It says “Beware of Pedestrians” It sums up an image for me of people being armed to the teeth with cugels etc”
    Do they actually mean Be aware of Pedestrians?

  2. If county have excess buildings and property through various ways now joined by 7 Districts, the farms are there for tenants because freehold is probably to expensive unless county would do a deal per farm.

    As for offices first place look at all lease buildings and see where depth can be merged into none lease example maybe White Rose House Northallerton is new so I’d guess it’s leased so Stone Cross is alot older so maybe owned one half for social services the other for old district council services.

    Same for Highway depots and waste and Streetscene depots merge them then sell or knock down for other use.

    But the old district council services could be put in one building for the county after all everything is postcode so is it TS YO HA DL and so on once you have the postcode then restively you find what’s needed be planning waste or council tax or voting or benefits.

    But the question is how much will the new mayor and county have to do with each other or will we see another Teesside mayor and jealous councils of the mayor ? In North Yorkshire??

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