Councillors in a bitter battle over the future of local government across England’s largest county have been warned they face having a council system shaped by Whitehall mandarins unless they work together to find a solution.
The chairman of North Yorkshire County Council, Councillor Jim Clark, said he feared a repeat of the government’s “horrendous” top-down reorganisation of the county’s NHS in 2012, which led to the loss of a spectrum of key services and county’s healthcare deficit doubling to £400 million.
Cllr Clark, who is also a long-serving member of Harrogate Borough Council, said it was incumbent on him in his mediatory duty as the county council’s chairman to press the elected members of the seven district councils and the county council to find common ground and display due regard for others ahead of a decision to create one or more unitary authorities for North Yorkshire and York.
He was speaking after the district council leaders unveiled a rival proposal to the county council and City of York Council’s shared ambition to keep their boundaries unchanged.
The districts have claimed their plan to split the county into Ryedale, Scarborough, Selby, and York in the east Craven, Hambleton, Harrogate, and Richmondshire in the west would yield savings of more than £56m every year, more than double the £25m promised by the county.
Since the government said council reorganisation would be required before the area was granted a lucrative devolution deal, councillors have engaged in an increasingly polarised struggle rarely seen in one of the country’s most Conservative-dominated areas.
Cllr Clark said: “I think people should be more respectful towards each other. At the moment we are fighting a civil war and the people of North Yorkshire deserve better. If we are not careful and come up with an agreed solution the government will come up with one and impose it. Everyone appears to be scrambling around for seats on authorities which have not even been decided yet.”
Cllr Clark, who led North Yorkshire’s scrutiny of health committee for almost a decade, said he was also concerned the county could miss out on the benefits of health devolution as the government also pushes ahead with plans to improve the integration of care for people, and empowering patients and local communities.
He said with the distraction of the Covid-19 pandemic many people may have not realised health decisions for the county were now being made in Hull and Leeds.
Cllr Clark said: “We have been through this horrendous NHS reorganisation in 2012 and then the government realised they had got it wrong. The last time we had a top-down reorganisation in North Yorkshire the NHS deficit in the county went from £200 million to £400 million and it resulted in the loss of many hospital beds and services. It wasn’t until 2020 that they started to get the county’s NHS system sorted out, despite us telling them in 2013 it was unsustainable. I fear this could happen again.”