A House of Lords peer has strongly criticised devolution in North Yorkshire calling it an “effective destruction of local government” for the region.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who is a Liberal Democrat, was speaking on June 16 during a debate in the second chamber about how to reinvigorate local democracy.
On April 1, the seven district and borough councils in North Yorkshire as well as the county council were replaced by a new unitary authority called North Yorkshire Council.
The aim was to streamline structures and save money but with larger areas to cover and more responsibilities over key services there have been concerns that some councillors will struggle to meet the needs of all their constituents.
Despite having a stated ambition of being a “truly local” council, the number of councillors has reduced from 319 to 90 across North Yorkshire.
For example, Craven District Council previously had 30 councillors representing the district’s 57,000 residents who were also served by North Yorkshire County Council councillors.
But the area, which includes towns such as Skipton and Settle as well as rural areas that border Lancashire, now has just nine councillors for the same geographical area.
With most meetings taking place in Northallerton, it means councillors and members of the public in the furthest reaches of Craven face almost a two-hour drive to get to County Hall.
Speaking in the House of Lords this month, Lord Wallace said:
“I find what has happened recently in North Yorkshire the most appalling, and when I heard someone assure me that no councillor in North Yorkshire would need more than two hours to drive from the ward they represent to council meetings, it showed me just how far we have gone.
“Decent places such as Harrogate, Scarborough, Richmond and Craven, which had working district authorities and which represented real places, have been dismantled and they are now trying to set up very large town councils for them.
“We have the prospect of a mayor, somehow, for North Yorkshire and, incidentally, one for East Yorkshire. That is the effective destruction of local government and I really do not understand the rationale for it.”
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service in March, Conservative council leader Carl Les defended criticism about the reduction in councillors.
Cllr Les said as one of three elected members for Bedale, councillors there had been “falling over each other” as there had been “very little to do”.
He said: “Representation by numbers doesn’t work. What matters is if you’ve got energetic people in the cohort of 90. The great benefit of reducing from 319 is that we have saved £750,000.
“I think we’ve got enough members to represent the people and continue the political process. You don’t have to go to a parish meeting to understand what’s happening in that parish.”