Council workers to ‘keep doing what they do’ with only senior managers at risk of redundancy due to new unitary authority

Council staff at work.

The abolition of North Yorkshire’s two-tier councils will have a major impact on taxpayers who rely on key services.

It will also have implications for councillors who in May 2022 will have to stand for election to a new unitary authority serving the entire county.

But above all, it will be the around 10,000 council staff across North Yorkshire who will be the most affected by the changes.

When the new authority launches in April 2023 following the abolition of North Yorkshire County Council and the district and borough councils in Harrogate, Scarborough, Selby, Craven, Ryedale, Hambleton and Richmondshire, most staff will be transferred across but some duplicated roles will inevitably be at risk of redundancy.

It is not yet known how many jobs will be affected – and there are also the questions of whether staff will be relocated and what happens to office buildings including Harrogate’s new civic centre headquarters.

North Yorkshire County Council – which is behind the single council plans and will act as the ‘continuing authority’ when reorganisation happens – has said those at risk of redundancy will be mostly senior staff and that the transferring of workers will be a “simple” process.

However, some union officials are not fully convinced.

David Houlgate, branch secretary at Unison Harrogate, which supported rival plans for two new councils split on a east/west basis, said: “Whilst we saw merits in both proposals there was a concern that district and borough council roles were at greater risk with the North Yorkshire County Council proposal. It would be safe to say that concern remains.

“Staff are also concerned about possibly having to relocate though at this time we have no idea what is likely to happen.”

On the other hand, Wendy Nichols, secretary of the North Yorkshire branch of Unison, which supported the single council plans, said reorganisation should be welcomed by all staff who she hopes will “work together to deliver a stronger future for everyone’s benefit.”

She said: “Many thousands of staff will now simply transfer to the new council as part of the process of setting it up.

“Our priority is to make sure that staff experience the least possible disruption so they can get on with their jobs and continue to deliver high quality and reliable public services.”

The aim of reorganisation is to unlock the door to a devolution deal with the government which could see millions of pounds and decision-making powers handed down from Whitehall to North Yorkshire.

The county could also get a mayor similar to those seen in South Yorkshire, the Tees Valley and Greater Manchester.

But a key part of the plans is saving money and a large part of this will come from a reduction in staff.

For example, there are currently eight council chief executives across North Yorkshire earning around £100,000 a year.

The new council will just have one – and the same will most likely be said for other top roles including directors.

A spokesperson for North Yorkshire County Council explained: “With the exception of a handful of the most senior managers, all staff will simply carry on doing what they are currently doing.

“After April 2023 when the new authority is in place some services may want to review their structures and arrangements especially if there is duplication of work and roles or more efficient new ways of delivering services which have been brought together.

“The expectation is that whilst over time for some services there will be changes to staffing structures and need for reductions in posts this will be able to be managed by removing vacancies.

“For a small number of the most senior managers there will be a need to reduce posts at an early stage when eight senior management teams become a single new management team.”

The coming months and as more details emerge about the new authority will undoubtedly be a nervy time for some staff.

Until it starts to take shape, there will be many unanswered questions about exactly whose jobs are at risk and what the new staffing structure will look like.

But officials have insisted staff will play a key part in the process and that they hope workers won’t quit local government due to the uncertainties ahead.

The county council spokesperson added: “There is a wealth of talent across district, borough and county council staff and it is very much hoped that everyone will see this as a huge opportunity to build a new, ambitious and exemplar council for everyone in North Yorkshire.”