North Yorkshire County Council has been accused of furthering a “power grab” and a disconnect between the authority and the residents it serves as it appointed its own chief executive to take the reins of a new unitary authority.
The county council’s chief executive Richard Flinton, who has guided England’s largest local authority by area through unprecedented change over the last decade, has been appointed to oversee the new unitary authority for the county.
Following the transfer of the functions of the county’s seven district and borough councils and county council to North Yorkshire Council from April next year, Mr Flinton will have responsibility for an annual budget of £1.4bn and a workforce of 10,500 staff.
An extraordinary meeting of North Yorkshire County Council saw elected members on the opposition side of the council chamber at County Hall in Northallerton initiate a round of applause to greet Mr Flinton to the council chamber after unanimously voting to approve his appointment in the £180,000 to £197,000 salary role.
Mr Flinton responded by saying the job would be “an enormous privilege”, particularly as it was in the county of his birth, and that he felt confident officers and members could come together to address challenges facing the authority.
Councillor Carl Les, the authority’s leader, told the meeting an appointments committee had unanimously recommended Mr Flinton to the role following a robust selection process.
He said: “Richard Flinton has grown through the ranks of this organisation, and grown into every role that we have given him. I’m sure he will continue to do so.”
Coun Les said Mr Flinton had “the unswerving respect of his colleagues”, adding that his vision and passion for North Yorkshire would be vital in shaping the future for hundreds of thousands of people who live and work in the county.
However, Independent councillor John McCartney said many residents engaged in local democracy felt “irked and discombobulated” and like they were being treated with contempt as their local councils were being swapped for a remote one.
Coun McCartney said under the new authority residents would be getting “government of the many by the few”.
He said: “We were told this was not a power grab. Then we found out that North Yorkshire County Council was to be a continuing authority. Now we have got a continuing chief executive and no doubt we will have continuing directors. The perception of this is absolutely appalling out there.
“It’s just a disgraceful perception, a perception that people do not understand why they did not get a vote on the governance of their local councils and their services and do not get a vote on how their council tax will be used.
“There is already a disconnect between this county and the people and when we get the North Yorkshire Council and the unwanted mayor the disconnect will be as big as the Humber estuary.”
Nevertheless, other while opposition councillors agreed the new unitary authority would harm residents’ democratic input, the appointment of Mr Flinton would ensure the changeover was smooth and led by people who understood the issues.
The meeting also heard opposition members support the level of salary for Mr Flinton, with one saying although it appeared “eye-wateringly high” to many people it was within a reasonable range for such a role and it was vital to attract candidates of the right calibre.