District council under fire over unitary authority consultation claims

The district council has proposed two North Yorkshire authorities should be created.

Richmondshire District Council’s claim that 92 per cent of residents supported its unitary authority proposals was based on just 29 responses to an online survey, it has emerged.

The previously unpublished breakdown of a poll commissioned by district councils in North Yorkshire has also revealed concerns over how representative the claim was that more than nine out of ten residents in Richmondshire were in favour of launching east and west unitary councils.

Document have revealed the Richmondshire claim, featured in a press release issued by several district councils in support of their submission to Government, was founded upon a single response from a resident aged 44 or below and just seven people who considered themselves to be working class.

The research, which the district councils’ press release stated was “conducted by respected independent market research company, The Buzzz”, also found 74 per cent of Ryedale residents were in favour of the east-west model, based on just 31 responses.

The press release the districts’ released quoted different council leaders saying: “This research clearly shows that a large majority of people across North Yorkshire would prefer our East & West model of local government reorganisation.”

Councillor Carl Les, leader of North Yorkshire County Council, which will submit its finalised rival bid to the government next week for a single unitary authority across the county, said with Richmondshire’s population of around 50,000 residents in mind, the 92 per cent support figure gave the appearance of “very comprehensive” backing for the east-east model.

He also suggested the poll had presented questions in a way that led people to favour the districts’ model.

Echoing claims made by Democrats during the recent US election, Cllr Les said: “I am very disappointed because that to my mind is a misleading press statement and we should all be very careful of the language we use and should not raise fears to get people’s support for one cause or the other.”

He added the Government’s consultation on its preferred option for one or more unitary authorities in North Yorkshire next year would be conducted “without spin or having designed the questions to give you the answer”.

Councillor Angie Dale, leader of Richmondshire council, said the survey was carried out by a respected market research company, using an online consumer access panel, so the results could be weighted by age and gender within each council areas, and by socio-economic group over the whole sample.

She said: “Market research surveys are always conducted using a sample of the population, so that demographics can be taken into account. The final number of responses was 557 across the whole county. The results for Richmondshire, while based on a small number of respondents, were marked as statistically significant. There is also an identical online survey which any resident can take part in, which we have been publicising, and which can be found at get-change-right.com/consultations.”

Cllr Dale added: “This survey currently has over 300 respondents, including more than 60 from Richmondshire, and is showing 71 per cent overall in favour of the East & West model. However, it should be noted that as this survey is self-selective, it will not take into account factors such as age, gender and socio-economic group, and is also open to manipulation, therefore may not have the statistical significance of a market research survey.”