Durham council denies backing North Yorkshire County Council’s unitary bid

County Hall, Northallerton.

Claims by Conservative-led North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) has been given “strong backing” from a neighbouring Labour-run council for its plan to retain its boundaries in a government-enforced local government shake-up that its bid have been dismissed.

Hours after NYCC issued a press release stating its Durham counterpart had endorsed its plan to take over the role of seven district and borough councils, the leader of the Durham authority categorically denied any such support had been given.

Councillor Simon Henig said the Durham authority, which became a unitary council in 2009, did not have a corporate view about what should happen in other areas, but said Durham had seen a number of benefits from the transformation.

Cllr Henig said: “We have not had a vote on this and would not seek to give our views on what should happen in other areas.”

The North Yorkshire press release featured Terry Collins, Durham’s chief executive officer, saying that the creation of a single council had given Durham the boost to deliver great services at scale, but also to create a strong and innovative localism agenda, which empowered local communities to create local solutions to services for their local areas.

It stated: “Durham County Council, which is of a similar make-up to North Yorkshire and became a single council 12 years ago, bringing county and districts together in one authority, says ‘there is no other way of operating’.”

The release said the ability to operate strategically and at scale while enabling parishes and towns and neighbourhoods to have their own plans in place to deliver their own priorities, through the creation of area action partnerships, had led to Durham attracting international attention for strong and effective localism.

The press release had Mr Collins quoted as stating: “In County Durham I think the experience is that local issues are dealt with really effectively and I think this is what you can expect going forward if the same situation occurs in North Yorkshire.”

It also featured the North Yorkshire council’s leader, Councillor Carl Les, stating that a single council for the county would be “a far cry from the remote ‘mega council’”, portrayed by their detractors, which include several district councils.

He said: “We know our people and our places, we deliver some of the best services in the country right into people’s homes and on the roads outside their front door and you don’t get more local than that.”

The North Yorkshire council has described its plan as “double devolution”, saying it would see greater powers and funding passed to parish and town councils than currently exist.

It argues voluntary organisations and businesses would also be given a louder voice via 25 community networks based around market town areas which would be the drivers of renewal and innovation.

The Northallerton-based council said its scheme would also improve transparency through area constituency committees to oversee their local areas, champion their cause, strengthen relationships with their MPs and make important decisions locally on things including planning and licensing. They would hold a North Yorkshire council to account.

While Cllr Henig said he would not back North Yorkshire’s bid, other leading politicians in Durham went further, and warned North Yorkshire against becoming a single, unitary authority.

The authority’s Independent group leader, Councillor John Shuttleworth, said he had supported the change as a member of the steering committee at the time, but he “wouldn’t go down that road again” after seeing leading council officers’ wages spiral.

He said: “Some people got put into jobs that should not have been in the jobs. It was a total and utter disaster.”

Two years after the shake-up in Durham, leading Tories accused the council of failing to deliver promised savings of £21m a year. In 2011, Councillor Richard Bell, leader of Durham council’s Conservative group and whose Barnard Castle West division borders North Yorkshire, said the real savings from becoming a unitary council had been “fairly modest” and questioned why the authority had not published a clear account of the costs and benefits of the reorganisation.