Opposition parties have pledged to offer a greater challenge to North Yorkshire’s ruling Conservative administration ahead of the authority’s first full meeting this week.
With some 43 seats between them, newly-appointed leaders of the Independent, Liberal Democrat, Labour and Green groups said they intended to work with the Tories where possible, but would also offer stiffer opposition than the Conservatives have faced at County Hall in Northallerton for many years.
The Tories have just one more than the minimum number of councillors required for a majority, and so if a few Conservatives miss meetings due to being ill or on holiday, the administration stands the possibility of its own proposals not being approved.
The opposition group leaders said following a meeting with the Tory group group leader, Councillor Carl Les, it had been agreed they would have monthly meetings to discuss local government reorganisation issues.
They said they were also looking forward to contributing to councillor workshops to examine particular changes and opportunities brought on by the formation of a unitary authority.
Taking over as Labour group leader from Councillor Eric Broadbent after nine years, Selby councillor Steve Shaw-Wright said following initial discussions, the Tory leadership appeared to be “more in the giving vein than they used to be” and more “community, social-focused rather than just money”.
He said: “As they haven’t got a massive majority any more they have to be fighting fit at every meeting.
“North Yorkshire has got some fantastic assets and sometimes we don’t sell them enough, we don’t argue enough. We don’t think big enough and if you don’t ask you don’t get.”
Since the election the Liberal Democrats’ ranks have been bolstered by the sole Liberal Party councillor, Pickering division member Joy Andrews.
The party’s leader at County Hall, Stokesley councillor Bryn Griffiths, said the group, which includes just two returning county councillors, would work to make sure the Tory leadership delivered on its promises.
He said: “We will be working to ensure local residents get a fair deal with the most cost-effective and environmentally-friendly solutions. We will be more than happy to work with the Conservatives on common grounds, but I think it will be a much more democratic council now, with more opposition members.
“There is more opportunity for better informed and more professional debates.”
Councillor Andy Brown, who has been handed the role of co-ordinator of the five-member Green Party group, said they would be on the look-out for plans to which they could agree with, but would offer “a strong challenge” to proposals they were concerned about.
He said: “We will work with anybody who puts forward sensible proposals that are in the best interests of North Yorkshire’s citizens and environment. We don’t care what political party they are from.”
Returning as leader of the Independent group, Richmond councillor Stuart Parsons said the Conservatives would for the first time in many years have “a sense of pressure on them” due to their much-reduced majority and have to be conciliatory.
He said: “There is greater scope for working together with the new composition of the council than there was prior to the election. Now the Conservatives have to listen to others because there is the opportunity for them to lose if they’re not careful.
“My intention is to get the new council to be open and available to residents and to offer decision-making in a completely transparent environment.”