Government tells North Yorkshire councils to rapidly transform local government

The seven district and borough councils in North Yorkshire, the county council and City of York Council have been told by the government to rapidly prepare plans to form one or more unitary authority, led by an elected mayor.

At a virtual meeting with the nine councils which are working towards devolution, local government minister Simon Clark said streamlined local authority structures were now an immediate requirement for devolution.

In a surprise move, the minister told council leaders that despite the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a willingness and capacity in government to move the changes on at pace and called on the local authorities to submit unitary authority plans by September.

Such plans have previously been rejected by one or more of the area’s councils, which have remained the same since 1974.

However, local authorities in the area are supportive of devolution as they believe it will bring more funding and powers to the area.

Mr Clarke, who has also been given responsibility for parts of the recovery from the pandemic, said the government sees devolution as a key part of the recovery process for the area, while the prime minister views devolution as vital for levelling up the North-South divide.

The government wants the new authority structure and elections to take place by April 2022, and while councils will be arriving at individual conclusions, the government has warned it would impose a solution if no consensus is reached.

The government has stated any change to geography could involve the City of York Council, but it is understood some leaders on the unitary authority want it to remain as it is.

Council sources say there are almost as many views on the best way forward as there are councils and no meeting has yet been scheduled to discuss the issue before September.

One council leader is believed to have aired a proposal to create one authority from the Selby, York, Ryedale and Scarborough areas and another with the Richmondshire, Hambleton, Craven and Harrogate areas.

Whatever the shape and size of future councils, the services and the need to deliver them across England’s largest county will remain.

North Yorkshire County Council’s leader, Councillor Carl Les, said he wanted a solution to protect the outcomes for key services and to benefit council taxpayers, while retaining local decision-making and engagement with communities.

Councillor Mark Robson, leader of Hambleton District Council, described the timescale for the changes set by government as “very tight”.

Both he and Councillor Angie Dale, leader of Richmondshire District Council, said they were determined to ensure the best interests of their residents and businesses were served.

Cllr Dale added the opportunity for councils to veto the unitary authority move would be taken away from them in a white paper in the autumn.

She said: “A unitary authority covering the whole of North Yorkshire and York and its 800,000 residents is far too large – it is too big to deliver local front line services for people and when considering unitaries it is vital this is taken into consideration.

“While there could be differences of views about the most appropriate unitary structures, I will work with my colleagues across the county to positively shape the way future local council services are organised across York and North Yorkshire.”


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