North Yorkshire County Council dismisses criticism over area committee changes

County Hall in Northallerton.

North Yorkshire County Council, which has been accused of manipulating committee boundaries to increase its political domination, has dismissed claims a key aim of the move will fall flat.

Leading members of North Yorkshire County Council said while its seven district area committees had been replaced by six based on parliamentary constituencies partly to better hold MPs to account, it did not matter if the MPs only attend the new committees once a year.

When the authority introduced the constituency committees earlier this year, its leading members said it aimed to strengthen local decision-making by encouraging MPs to  attend the meetings “so there can be the best democratic representation for their communities”.

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The Conservative-run administration said the move to get Westminster politicians to attend meetings would “enable the MP and county councillors to hold each other to account and to facilitate dialogue about issues facing the locality”.

Oppositions councillors accused them of “political gerrymandering” as the council’s only non-Tory controlled committee, Richmondshire, was broken up and replaced with a Conservative-led committee.

The opposition members, including councillors John Blackie and Lindsay Burr, said MPs had not attended the area committees and were unlikely to show much interest in attending the new-look constituency committees.

The first meeting of the Thirsk and Malton constituency committee heard, after discussions between the council and MPs, it was anticipated MPs would “probably attend the committees about once a year”.

Members were told the meetings which the MPs would attend would be arranged to suit the Westminster politicians’ diaries and on that occasion councillors would be able “to raise one or two key issues” in depth with MPs.

Councillor Lindsay Burr said while she appreciated the constituency’s MP had a very busy schedule, she was angry that one of the main reasons for the changes appeared not to have been fully embraced.

She said: “When this new arrangement was sold to us at county council we were told it was because our MP was going to come. Quite clearly it’s not going to happen.”

Councillor Greg White, a member of the council’s executive, said the new-look committees would focus on improvements for residents, rather than MPs’ attendance records.

He said: “The more relevant we make the committee to the work of the MP, the more likely he is to attend.

“It is really not about getting people to turn up for meetings for meetings sake.

“Previous to this we didn’t have any attendance from the MP, so it has got to be progress. At the moment, I am very happy with him coming once a year.”