North Yorkshire County Council leader ‘wants to be a friend of parish councils’

Carl Les, leader of North Yorkshire County Council.

The leader of North Yorkshire County Council set to merge with seven district councils says he “wants to be a friend of parish councils” after being accused of plunging many into financial uncertainty.

A full meeting of the authority heard Councillor Carl Les confirm that some parish councils holding elections next year to bring their polls into line with one for the new unitary authority would face charges for the election despite having little time to raise funding.

The meeting was told how some district councils charged parishes to run elections for them.

Councillors heard Richmondshire District Council charged Richmond Town Council £6,000 for the election cycle.

Several opposition members called for clarification, saying many parishes had been left in a state of confusion after Coun Les had stated on October 5 that parish councils would not be charged for the forthcoming elections, before the council’s chief executive had stated parish councils would be charged.

Independent group leader Councillor Stuart Parsons said councils such as Richmond, where numerous seats were likely to be contested, would not have enough time to set aside the costs as they normally would because the election had been called by the county council with no consultation with parishes.

Richmondshire councillor Helen Grant told Coun Les: “The parishes are being disadvantaged. Little parishes have little or no money anyway and as we all know they tend to get their costs in over a four-year period.”

She said St Martins Parish Council would have to double its tax demand from residents to cover the election and as parishes had the election “foisted” on them by the county council, the upper tier authority should be paying for the elections.

Selby district councillor John McCartney said during Coun Les’ campaign to get North Yorkshire County Council to be the new authority parish councils were “your new best friends”.

He added: “You were going to be their champion, you were going to help them, they could take on responsibilities. But what you’ve done to them is give them uncertainty.”

Coun Les replied that as a former parish councillor of many years he knew the value of parish councils. He said: “I do want to be a friend to parish councils. I want to help parish councils, which is why I believe the new authority should not charge, in the same way I don’t think district councils should charge presently.”

He said holding two separate elections for the unitary and parish authorities over two years would have been unreasonably expensive for taxpayers and as parish councils’ budgets were often small compared to district councils, parishes should not be charged for elections by the new authority.

Coun Les added: “The next election is still under the remit of the district councils and it is quite right that it is their decision. Some charge and some don’t.”