No pressure for town and parish councils to take over services, say council chiefs

Leyburn Community Library.

Town and parish councils in North Yorkshire will not face pressure to take over the running of services, council chiefs say.

Smaller authorities in the county are being invited to take on the running of a range of local services as part of the biggest shake-up of local government in North Yorkshire in 50 years.

North Yorkshire County Council is encouraging the lower tier local authorities to submit expressions of interest about “reasonable steps beyond what they already do”, such as managing car parks, markets or community buildings.

A meeting of the council’s executive was told parish and town councils would be offered “double devolution” following the county and York being granted devolved powers from Westminster in April 2024.

Initially six parish and town councils will be selected for a pilot scheme, in which they will be given the existing budget for running the service.

The move comes several years after the council handed over the management of the vast majority of its libraries to community groups, amid an outcry, as it strived to cut costs. Although there are some continuing concerns at some libraries, the move has since widely been heralded as a success.

However, the meeting heard double devolution was not aimed at saving money or “off-loading services”.

The authority’s finance boss, Councillor Gareth Dadd, said: “When local communities own something, a service or space, they are far better placed to look after that service or space than a larger authority.

“We all know, don’t we, that local town and parish councils can sometimes run things more efficiently than larger organisations as a one-off. I would be happy for those savings to be passed to the local community.”

Giving an example, Coun Dadd said if Thirsk Town Council agreed it could take over the running of the town’s twice-weekly markets which have been run by Hambleton District Council.

Executive member for customer engagement, Councillor Greg White, added parish councils would need to demonstrate they had the expertise to take on any extra service.

He said: “They are not going to go from running their local play park to running bin collections or a crematorium.”

The meeting heard the council had faced criticism from town and parish councils over the proposal in the mistaken belief that it was an exercise in offloading duties that parishes had no desire to take on.

Councillor Michael Harrison, executive member for health and adult services, said: “We are not prescribing a list of things that we want people to consider.

“We want them to come to us with things that they want to do. If they don’t want to do anything there’s no pressure on them to do so.”

The meeting heard while the authority would only agree to transfer powers to town and parish councils if the move would be “cost neutral”, the county council had stated in its local government reorganisation bid to government that it would consider transferring its budget for such things.