Local government reorganisation condemned as political move by Richmondshire councillors

County Hall in Northallerton.

Local government reorganisation in North Yorkshire is “blatant gerrymandering” by the Tory government and will create Europe’s least democratic local authority, it has been claimed.

Some elected members serving on the county’s seven district and borough councils say following recent county council-led briefings about the changes it has become increasingly apparent the forthcoming North Yorkshire Council was being introduced by the government to consolidate power in the hands of the Conservative Party from April 2023.

While North Yorkshire’s 225 district and borough councillors represent the same residents as the 72 county councillors, the Conservative Party has 74 per cent of county seats but just 51 per cent of elected members on the district and borough councils.

The district and borough councils feature almost 29 per cent of Independent and Green councillors, but less than 17 per cent on the county council. Labour and Liberal Democrat groups on the county council have both less than half the share of seats they have on district and borough authorities.

Although opposition councillors have alleged the new authority’s 89 divisions, many of which resemble the existing county council divisions, have been designed to favour the Conservatives, senior Tories leading the changes have dismissed suggestions the division boundaries were politically motivated.

The Green Party and Independent councillor for Catterick Leslie Rowe said a study by the District Council’s Network had found creating unitary authorities for counties would in North Yorkshire’s case lead to the least democratic local authority in Europe, with each of the 90 councillors representing around 7,000 people.

He said: “Compare this to Barking and Dagenham Council, which is also undergoing reorganisation, with each councillor there representing 3,200 people.

“Clearly, the sole justification for this costly local government reorganisation is to consolidate power into the hands of the Conservative Party.”

County council opposition leader and Richmond councillor Stuart Parsons said the creation of  the new authority was “blatant political gerrymandering” by the government as the smaller neighbouring county of Cumbria was being split into two councils to ensure the Conservatives were in control of at least one local authority there.

He said: “It’s fairly obvious this is Conservative Party politics and they are hoping they will be able to dominate the new local authority in the same way they have dominated the county council, but have had less success in some of the borough and district councils.

He said: “They don’t like not being in control and get very upset when they lose control of a council.

“However, it could nicely backfire on them.

“The public are not over the moon about the Tories at the moment and there’s a great opportunity in May to have as few Tories re-elected as possible.”

However, the authority’s Liberal Democrat group leader Councillor Bryn Griffiths said while local government reorganisation was a political move, he believed the changes represented an opportunity for a more politically diverse council covering the county.

He said: “If candidates listen to their communities and put their community’s views forward I think there is a better chance of a more representative county, but if you haven’t got proportional representation you get stuffed.”

County council leader Councillor Carl Les said claims that the new authority would be Europe’s least democratic were wrong as at least one unitary council, Leeds, had a smaller proportion of councillors to residents.

When asked if the reorganisation had been motivated by politics, Coun Les replied: “No. It’s a move to make sure we get the benefits of negotiating devolution asks with the government.”

1 Comment

  1. Be a good idea if it stops Richmondshire from turning the area into a holiday resort and passing planning consent for more McMansions!

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